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Charting the Future, Arts Center Breaks Ground on Expansion

3 min read

Prominent museum supporters, including Harriet and Warren Stephens and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., celebrated the groundbreaking Tuesday of the near-$100 million renovation and expansion of the Arkansas Arts Center in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park.

About 250 people attended the ceremony, which kicks off a project expected to wrap up in 2022.

Speakers included Stephens, co-chair of the $128 million “Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future” fundraising campaign; Victoria Ramirez, the center’s new executive director; Jeanne Gang of Chicago architecture and urban design firm Studio Gang; Kate Orff of New York landscape architecture and urban design firm SCAPE; and the mayor.

Warren Stephens said that $122.7 million of the $128 million has been raised. Of that, $31.2 million will come from the city of Little Rock through a new hotel-tax revenue bond. Other lead donors include the Windgate Foundation, the Stephenses, the state of Arkansas and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.

“The new Arts Center will really be a public resource that allows people of all ages to view and encounter art, to learn, grow and participate in classes, programs, performances and public events,” said Warren Stephens, CEO of Stephens Inc. of Little Rock. “It’s also an economic driver and will help to stimulate development in the city of Little Rock and tourism throughout the state of Arkansas and region and, hopefully, even the nation.”

Ramirez said conversations with visitors “confirmed for me not only how beloved the Arts Center is to this community, but it’s a firsthand testament to the power and importance of the arts.

“We are here to chart the future of the arts in Little Rock, but it is also the dedication of generations of supporters like you all and the history of the Arts Center itself that has brought us here today.”

Ramirez’s comments harkened back more than 100 years ago, when a group of women began planning what would become the Arkansas Arts Center. 

“They envisioned a dynamic, educational institution that would celebrate the arts of the highest quality and be deeply dedicated to the entire community. For the very first time, an arts institution of its kind in this region,” Ramirez said. “And we’re here today to [make] the same commitment. The Arts Center will showcase art that educates, inspires, provokes and beautifies our lives. The Arts Center will be a place where we gather as a community to celebrate and learn and cross boundaries.”

Gang said the museum’s new design will focus on engagement, with a living room-like space for casual gatherings and other events at a new Ninth Street entrance, which will feature the uncovered and restored 1937 art deco facade of the original Museum of Fine Arts.

Orff said the Arts Center design aims to blend the building into its park setting. She said the new roof will gather rainwater in such a way that it will cascade onto the lawn surrounding the building. 

The mayor said the project was a great example of a public-private partnership and said the Arts Center would be “a beacon of light for our city.”

The groundbreaking also featured performances by the Parkview Arts and Science Magnet Jazz Ensemble, the Episcopal Collegiate School Choir and the Episcopal Collegiate Percussion Band.

During construction, the center will be housed in the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. 

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