New Timeline Set for Opening of Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts

New Timeline Set for Opening of Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
A rendering of the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (Studio Gang | SCAPE)

The new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will now open in spring 2023, executives of the nonprofit announced late Wednesday.

Completion of the $142 million, 133,000-SF renovation of what was previously called the Arkansas Arts Center has been postponed twice, most recently from May 2022. Though renovations began in 2016, the museum closed as the majority of the construction there commenced with a groundbreaking in 2019.

An exact date for the grand opening and an update on how much has been raised in the capital campaign for the project will be announced this fall, Executive Director Victoria Ramirez told Arkansas Business early Thursday.

On the cause of the delay, she said, “It's really a combination of things. … We are in a really fortunate position, where we've been able to make some enhancements to the building that were not part of the initial plan. And these enhancements really expand our public space. We'll have more gallery space. We'll have more space for programming. We'll have more space for rentals and events.

Design changes include expanding gallery space by approximately 1,000 SF and transforming a previously "back of house" space into about 2,600 SF of programming and event space, complete with an outdoor terrace.

“We're really kind of taking advantage of the position that we're in … and, in the end, we’ll deliver a much bigger, a much better building.”

Ramirez said making enhancements now is more cost effective than making them a few years down the road, because construction costs rise over time.

She also cited supply chain delays as a secondary reason for the postponement.

Ramirez added that the museum’s staff will need time to move into the building, install its collection there and set up its new facility for the public. The staff should be moved in by the end of the year, she said.

In other news, the museum said it has added 811 items to its collection since 2019. Those items include pieces from Hans Hoffman and Andrew Wyeth and 500 enamel works gifted by the Enamel Arts Foundation.

Warren Stephens, CEO of Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, said in a news release that support from local and national donors not only led to the new acquisitions but has been “essential to [AFMA’s] rebirth and future.”

He and his wife, Harriet, are co-chairs of the fundraising campaign for the project, “Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for our Cultural Future." More than $135 million had already been raised as of April 2021. Ramirez declined to disclose how much had been raised as of Thursday.

“Arkansas and particularly central Arkansans are supporting this project in just unprecedented ways,” she said. “It's allowing us to dream bigger, and we're doing it. It's putting us in a really great position and we'll be able to provide a more specific sort of update in the fall.”

Harriet Stephens said in the release that, at the opening, AFMA will be celebrated “as a significant architectural and artistic landmark for the region.”

Public support for the project includes a $31.2 million contribution from the city of Little Rock, generated through a hotel tax revenue bond approved by Little Rock voters. Lead donors include Windgate Foundation, the Stephens, Terri and Chuck Erwin, the state and Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.

The architect for the project is Studio Gang of Chicago; the construction firm is Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock. SCAPE Landscape Architecture of New York is overseeing 11 acres of landscaping for AFMA.

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