Creating a Positive Ripple Effect Through Art

Victoria Ramirez Commentary

Creating a Positive Ripple Effect Through Art
The north entrance to the redesigned Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock (Scott Carroll)

The new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, opening April 22, is built on a legacy of community engagement that dates back through generations of Arkansans to a group of undaunted women who founded the Fine Arts Club in 1914, with a mission of bringing the arts to Arkansas. 

As the collection and mission expanded, Jeanette and Winthrop Rockefeller helped launch a fundraising campaign to create a statewide center for the arts. The expanded Arkansas Arts Center opened in 1963, establishing the foundation for a rich legacy of community development through the arts, children’s theater and art education. 

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Communities with robust arts organizations show many positive points of impact including increases in measurements of well-being, social cohesion, educational outcomes and involvement in civic issues. A 2017-18 museum social impact study referenced by the American Alliance of Museums revealed a 90%-100% increase for repeat visitors across four areas: health and well-being, intercultural competence, continued education and engagement and strengthened relationships. Museums are an integral part of creating networks that enrich the economy and quality of life across many domains, from attracting cultural tourists and greater tax revenues to fostering innovation and civic dialogue. 

As a museum in the 21st century, AMFA is continually striving to inspire and expand our community by providing opportunities to engage with art in new ways, learn and connect with others in a fun and enriching setting. By working to advance other arts organizations and businesses in our region, we are more effective at building community and amplifying our collective impact. Throughout the construction of the new AMFA, more than 50 Arkansas companies  contributed their expertise, and nearly 90% of the suppliers and subcontractors are based in Arkansas — all of which feeds the local economy. It is just one example of how the museum has created a direct economic impact.  

Indirectly, we strive to create a ripple effect of revitalization for downtown Little Rock, which has many great arts organizations and local businesses to support. 

We have several exciting announcements coming soon, including the launch of cultural partners-in-residence, a volunteer-based docent program and sponsorship opportunities. We are also launching a corporate partnership program that connects an influential network of national corporations, regional companies and local businesses that support the museum’s general operations through annual giving. AMFA also offers sponsorship opportunities for specific arts programs that meet the objectives for community impact shared by local organizations.

The new AMFA will be a vibrant space where Arkansans can come to feel inspired, learn, socialize, relax, dine — not to mention support artisans by shopping in the museum store. The courtyard and park entrances of the newly redesigned 133,000-SF building connect light-filled architectural spaces to the 11 acres of landscaped grounds, 2,200 linear feet of new walking paths and MacArthur Park. Previously, the museum comprised eight disparate additions spanning 92,000 SF, and the grounds covered 2.2 acres. 

The newly unified architecture speaks to the idea of creating community, which is inherent to the style of the architect, Jeanne Gang. Studio Gang’s sustainable, open redesign emphasizes the connections between AMFA’s 20,000-SF galleries, art school, performing arts theater, lecture hall, museum store, a full-service restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining options, and the Cultural Living Room — the signature community space where visitors can socialize with a coffee or cocktail and enjoy the panoramic view.  

We can’t wait to welcome everyone to the new museum, where admission is always free, and are honored to be a part of this new chapter in the region’s cultural and economic prosperity. 

Victoria Ramirez is the executive director of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts.

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