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Artistic Vision at AMFA

4 min read
Artistic Vision AMFA Opening 144004
Developers and city leaders see the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts as an anchor for further development in nearby neighborhoods. ( Tim Hursley)

With the grand reopening of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts just around the corner, the expected influx of art-loving tourists has community leaders anticipating the attraction’s impact on further downtown revitalization.

Gabe Holmstrom, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, is hoping for a push in this direction.

“The reimagined AMFA will no doubt attract new visitors to our downtown and, we hope, more private investment,” Holmstrom said. “We as a community need to capitalize on the energy around the museum and encourage additional development and redevelopment in the surrounding areas.”

There is evidence around the state of such an impact. The addition of arts centers in Bentonville and El Dorado sparked downtown revitalization efforts.

After El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District came to life, the city welcomed The Haywood, a $15 million boutique hotel to help with the increased number of visitors in the area.

Artistic Vision AMFA Opening 144004
Downtown Bentonville blossomed after the construction of nearby museums. The opening of the reimagined Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is expected to have a similar, revitalizing impact on some of downtown Little Rock’s neglected locations. ( Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism)

After the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, downtown property value increased in commercial and residential buildings.

According to a 2018 University of Arkansas Graduate Report, the city had a total of $591 million valuations in 2017, up from $271 million in 2012. Commercial valuations rose from $133 million in 2012 to $259 million in 2017, and residential valuations jumped from $135 million in 2012 to $332 million in 2017. 

In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported $2.8 billion was contributed to Arkansas’ economy from the arts and culture sector. 

Downtown Little Rock has experienced an increase in revitalization efforts before with the addition of the Clinton Library in 2004.

An impact analysis by Boyette revealed that The Clinton Center had led to $2.46 billion in downtown investment projects and $62 million in investment projects within the Arkansas River Trail System. The total economic impact was $3.3 billion.

While serving as dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service for 15 years, Skip Rutherford saw the rebirth of the River Market district. He said the reopening of AMFA will be just as impactful.

“I think the Museum of Fine Arts offers itself to great residential development around it,” he said. “It offers itself to unique commercial restaurants, entertainment venues … it’s got a lot of potential in terms of what may happen next. The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts gives Little Rock a new attraction, and that’s important to build a downtown and surrounding area’s future.”

Artistic Vision AMFA Opening 144004
( Tim Hursley)

Located in the MacArthur Park District near the East Village and Pettaway neighborhoods, the museum will open with a new-and-improved 133,000-SF building. East Village and Pettaway have already seen an increase in development efforts.

Pettaway Square has seen the addition of several retail spaces, including Moody Brews, a brewery and taproom set to open this year, and Paper Hearts Bookstore.

“This is a huge investment into a part of our downtown that is already on an exciting trajectory,” Holmstrom said. “It’s an opportunity to really tie the effort in the Pettaway area and the major revitalization happening in the East Village together with an anchor institution just blocks away from the heart of our downtown core.”

Chris Moses, CEO of Moses Tucker Partners sees AMFA as an economic base driver.

“That type of investment in any city where there’s culture at play and fine arts —  it will typically kickstart more developments,” Moses said. “Anytime you have that type of investment, you’re basically getting another anchor. So what we look for in real estate for revitalization or development purposes are anchors.”

Already the museum has garnered national and worldwide attention. In a Jan. 9 article, Architectural Digest named Little Rock one of the top 23 places in the world to visit in 2023. 

Victoria Ramirez, executive director of the museum, said the museum’s design is “arguably one of the most significant architectural buildings in the state.”

“You’re going to see more activity here. It’s just, I think, inevitable,” Ramirez said. 

Passion for the arts and the influx of visitors should also feed into an interest in investing in the city’s downtown development, Holmstrom said.

 “Artists need affordable places to create their art, but once they arrive and start sharing their work publicly, crowds naturally follow.”

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