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ASO to Expand Children’s Programs With $9M East Village Music Center

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The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday announced plans for a $9 million, 20,000-SF music center in Little Rock’s East Village neighborhood.

Organizers said the Stella Boyle Smith Music Center would expand the orchestra’s capacity for children’s programming, allowing students more room to rehearse and perform and the nonprofit to expand its offerings.

“This new community music center will allow us to meet current demand, expand music instruction offerings and allow us to provide more programming for adults of all ages to complement the concerts at Robinson Center,” ASO CEO Christina Littlejohn said in a news release.

The orchestra announced plans for the center after years of private fundraising to get the program off the ground. So far, it has raised $5.4 million, or 60% of its goal. That includes $3.2 million donated by members of its board of directors, and $500,000 from Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff.

The ASO said it will now begin seeking contributions from the wider community.

“This project will become an incredible addition to the arts and culture landscape of Arkansas and a vibrant jewel of creativity in Little Rock’s East Village, and it will also be far more than that,” Brigita Gardner, the project’s fundraising chair, said. 

“This new center is a commitment to serve our communities for generations and marks a significant opportunity for our current community leaders to leave a lasting legacy that ensures every young Arkansans for years to come will have access to music education and all the power that comes with it.”

The center was designed by Witsell Evans Rasco Architects of Little Rock. It will sit at southeast corner of 3rd Street and World Avenue near the Clinton Presidential Library and the headquarters of Heifer International.

The center will be named for Stella Boyle Smith, who was among the founders of the orchestra and gave to arts organizations throughout her life. Smith, whose wealth stemmed from land holdings in Woodruff and Arkansas counties, also supported Arkansas Children’s Hospital, St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She died in 1994 at the age of 100.

Stella Boyle Smith Trust trustee Mike Mayton said the facility will allow it “to double or even triple the number of students and community members” the ASO can serve.

Right now, the ASO’s education and community music programs, including the Youth Orchestra, Music Academy and ASO Community Orchestra, take place in a rented space. 

The new music center will include a hall for rehearsals and concerts, multiple practice spaces, music classrooms, climate-controlled instrument storage and other flexible spaces for a variety of uses.

The center will also have a dedicated streaming studio to deliver ASO programming to nursing homes, retirement centers, libraries, schools or anyone unable to come to the community music center in person, officials said.

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