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Arts Center Unveils Plans for $70M Redesign

3 min read

Architects for the planned Arkansas Arts Center renovation and expansion unveiled their design on Tuesday.

The construction budget is $70 million, which will come from both public and private sources. In February 2016, Little Rock residents voted in favor of bonding the revenue from a 2 percent tax on lodging paid primarily by out-of-town visitors for the benefit of the Arkansas Arts Center, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and Historic MacArthur Park.

A capital campaign to raise more money for the project is underway, and the center said it expects to announce fundraising updates later in the year.

A groundbreaking is scheduled for fall 2019, and the project is expected to be completed in early 2022.

The design features 127,000 SF of renovated and new spaces.

Plans include:

  • a versatile indoor/outdoor restaurant overlooking MacArthur Park;
  • a new north entrance reveals the original 1937 Museum of Fine Arts façade;
  • a second floor of galleries;
  • expanded art studios and art school gallery;
  • a new drawing research center and conservation lab;
  • a dedicated black box theater;
  • expanded education spaces, including a family art adventure space; and
  • a flexible “cultural living room” that can serve as an extension of the galleries, event space or community gathering space with bar and lounge seating offering a view north across downtown Little Rock.

“The AAC is well-loved and has been well-used,” Executive Director Todd Herman said in a news release. “The building has held up well, but this renovation and expansion is needed for the Arts Center to be the kind of community resource that meets the changing expectations of our visitors, our growing world-class art collection and art school, and to continue offering groundbreaking educational programs to a diverse community.”

Architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects and landscape architect Kate Orff of New York-based SCAPE presented the design.

Studio Gang Architects, with offices in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, was selected in December 2016. Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects was selected as associate architect for the project in February 2017 and is working in partnership with Studio Gang Architects.

“Starting from the inside out, the design clarifies the organization of the building and extends its presence into MacArthur Park and out to Crescent Lawn,” Gang said in the release. “By doing so, the Center becomes a vibrant place for social interaction, education and appreciation for the arts.”

The center said the design will increase visitor services by 81 percent; exhibitions and collections management by 25 percent; and education public programs and the Museum School by 50 percent.

“Because the Arkansas Arts Center is made up of eight additions to the 1937 Museum of Fine Arts, it’s a very complicated puzzle,” Herman said. 

The most recent addition to the facility was done in 2001.

Sustainable practices are being applied throughout the project in both the materials and mechanical systems of the building and the landscape elements featuring native plants and rainwater reclamation.

The project will also bring new outdoor amenities to MacArthur Park. The architects said they envision the Arkansas Arts Center as a “museum within the forest.”

New public plazas and gardens will be installed at the north and south entrances of the Arts Center, and planted groves will be placed along the west side of the building to create a forested edge that blends into the park. Also, a framework of new trees will eventually merge with the existing canopy to form a park forest.

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