Reimagined Arkansas Arts Center wins Best of Design Award

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Building, Children's Theatre, Community, Museum, Museum School, News

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Award proves transformational power of the new cultural hub for Arkansas

View From The North: Daytime view from downtown Little Rock of the Arkansas Arts Center’s new north entrance. The Cultural Living Room signals the new entrance from Crescent Drive, and creates a new courtyard plaza that reveals the historic, 1937 façade. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

The Arkansas Arts Center’s reimagined MacArthur Park building was named the winner of the 2019 The Architect’s Newspaper Best of Design Awards in the Unbuilt – Cultural category.

Designed by renowned architecture firm Studio Gang, the new building’s distinctive architectural identity signifies the Art Center’s role as a cultural beacon for the future of Arkansas while celebrating the institution’s proud legacy. Scheduled to open in 2022, the project will strengthen the Arkansas Arts Center as the region’s leading visual and performing arts institution.

Arkansas Arts Center model detail. Image courtesy of Studio Gang.

The Architect’s Newspaper Best of Design award honor exceptional architecture, design and building projects throughout Canada, Mexico and the United States. The annual awards also point to trends in the building design.

“Sensitivity and subtlety were at a premium,” The Architect’s Newspaper editors wrote of this year’s awardees. “Winners were chosen for their contextual, tactical approaches rather than big, bombastic ideas.”

Studio Gang’s design for the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center creates where the community can enjoy all the benefits of engaging with the arts. The new building will feature two entrances – the north courtyard entrance features a nod to past in the beautifully preserved 1937 façade of the Museum of Fine Arts. The south entrance opens into MacArthur Park. Prominent glass-enclosed spaces at either entrance welcome visitors into the building from MacArthur Park at the south and downtown Little Rock at the north.

View toward MacArthur Park from the Atrium, which connects the Arkansas Arts Center’s three programmatic pillars: the Museum School, Galleries, and Children’s Theatre. Image courtesy of Studio Gang.

Inside, visitors will find expertly lit galleries to feature the Arts Center’s 14,000-work collection of international art. A full schedule of dynamic special exhibitions will celebrate the artistic history and current work of the Delta region while bringing world-class exhibitions from around the world to Little Rock. The Museum School will feature fully equipped studios for drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, glass, wood, and metalsmithing classes for children and adults, along with a gallery space for displaying student work. State-of-the-art main stage and black box theatre spaces will host Children’s Theatre programming, films and performing arts events. The innovative “Living Room” will create space for community and social gatherings, quiet reflection, and everything in between with views of downtown Little Rock. A full-service restaurant will feature indoor and shaded outdoor seating overlooking MacArthur Park. The design also includes a Museum Shop, collections research room, and a lecture hall for public programs.

The project also features a revitalized MacArthur Park landscape, designed by Kate Orff and SCAPE. The landscape, inspired by Little Rock’s unique ecologies, will expand the connections between the building and MacArthur Park through native and sustainable planting and water reclamation. Landscape pathways, a great lawn and open areas will allow for vibrant, outdoor community programming.

Aerial view showing how the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center creates new pathways and connections to MacArthur Park. The design includes a new restaurant with outdoor shaded seating, walking paths, and a great lawn. Over time, a tree canopy will develop, creating a true “Arts Center in a Park.” Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

“The reimagined Arkansas Arts Center will be a place that showcases art that educates, inspires, provokes and beautifies our lives,” Executive Director Victoria Ramirez said. “We imagine this project as one that will chart the future of the arts in Little Rock, and we are honored to see that it is already being recognized as such.”

The transformation of the Arkansas Arts Center into a state-of-the-art facility will be realized through a $128 million special fundraising campaign, Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future. The campaign will also provide transition and opening support, while also strengthening the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation’s endowment, yielding support for operations, exhibitions, acquisitions, and education and outreach programming in the new building. At the October 1 groundbreaking ceremony, capital campaign co-chairs Harriet and Warrant Stephens announced that the campaign has raised more than $122.7 million of its $128 million goal.

Nighttime view from downtown Little Rock of the Arkansas Arts Center’s new north entrance. A new plaza opens the historic 1937 façade onto Crescent Drive. Above, the Cultural Living Room acts as a community gathering and event space. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, San Francisco and Paris. Founded and led by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang’s award-winning work ranges in scale and typology from the 82-story Aqua Tower to the 14-acre Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, both located in Chicago. Gang has been recognized for a design process that foregrounds the relationship among people and their environments, and is the only architect named to TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2019. Studio Gang is currently designing cultural and civic projects across the Americas, including an expansion to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a new Center for the University of Chicago in Paris, a new United States Embassy in Brasilia, and a Global Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. This is Studio Gang’s first project in Arkansas.

SCAPE, founded by landscape architect and MacArthur Fellow Kate Orff, is a design-driven landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York. They believe landscape architecture can enable positive change in communities through the creation of regenerative living infrastructure and public landscapes. SCAPE works to integrate natural cycles and systems into environments across all scales, from the urban pocket-park to the regional ecological plan. They do this through diverse forms of landscape architecture – built landscapes, planning frameworks, research, books, and installations – with the ultimate goal of connecting people to their immediate environment and creating dynamic and adaptive landscapes of the future.

During construction, the Arkansas Arts Center has moved from its current facility in MacArthur Park into a temporary location at the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Classes, education programs, and performances will continue at the temporary location from Fall 2019 through the new Arts Center’s planned Grand Opening in 2022.

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Postcards from the Collection: Degas at the Opera

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Collection, Museum

photo of the author

By Katie Hall
Collections Manager and Head Registrar

Edgar Degas’s Trois danseuses nues from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection is currently on view in Degas at the Opera, an exploration of the French impressionist’s fondness for the Paris Opera to celebrate its 350th anniversary. Katie traveled with the drawing as a courier on its way to Paris this fall. Here, she shares insights from her international adventure.

Edgar Hilaire Germain Degas, French (Paris, France, 1834 – 1917, Paris, France), Trois danseuses nues (Three Nude Dancers), circa 1903, charcoal on paper, 30 3/4 x 25 9/16 inches, Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection: Purchase, Fred W. Allsopp Memorial Acquisition Fund. 1983.010.002

The Arkansas Arts Center has a world-renowned collection of international art – and museums around the world are often interested in borrowing works from our collection for exhibitions exploring various artists, themes and movements. A few years ago, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris reached out to us about Degas at the Opera, which they were developing in partnership with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to mark the 350th anniversary of the Opéra national de Paris. The curators of the exhibition
were interested in borrowing Degas’ Trois danseuses nues (Three Nude Dancers) from our collection. The charcoal drawing, made by Degas in the first few years of the 20th century, shows three dancers pausing for a moment as one leans down to adjust the ribbon on her shoe.

As one of the people at the Arts Center tasked with keeping the collection safe, it’s my responsibility to ensure that the work is fit to travel and that the museum it’s traveling to will maintain safe environmental conditions during the exhibition. For some loans, that even means a member of the Arts Center’s exhibitions team will accompany the work to oversee the transportation, unpacking, and installation of the artwork. With Trois danseuses nues traveling to Paris for Degas at the Opera earlier this fall, I served as the courier.

Our journey began in Dallas, where we caught a plane to Paris along with several other artworks and couriers from American museums bound for the same exhibition.

Because all cargo going on a passenger jet must be screened before departure, I accompanied the crate to a TSA screening facility where it was checked and cleared for shipment. Next, it was on to the cargo warehouse for flight preparation.
While at the cargo warehouse, it was consolidated onto a pallet with three other crates from regional lending institutions. The three other couriers and I watched as the crates were placed on large metal pallet, wrapped in plastic, and then secured by a cargo net. With the pallet registration number in hand, I turned responsibility over to an armed police officer who guarded the pallet until it was loaded onto the plane.
At the gate, I watched the pallet as it was loaded onto the plane. After confirming with the police officer that the cargo door was closed and secured, I boarded the plane. In Paris, the process was repeated, but in reverse. We were met at the gate by our customs broker who waited with us while we watched the pallet offload from the plane. We then traveled to the customs warehouse where the pallet is delivered and unpacked. The crates go through customs, where paperwork is reviewed and details confirmed. Finally the crates are loaded onto a secure, climatized truck.

Arriving in Paris, the work was delivered to the Musée d’Orsay, where it stayed in its crate to acclimate to the environment in the space.

More than 48 hours after leaving Little Rock, the crate was delivered to the Musée d’Orsay and stored onsite until it was ready to be installed.

The next day, I returned to the museum to help unpack and install the artwork among works from the Musée d’Orsay, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and others.

After a day in storage to acclimate to the environment in Paris, we uncrated the drawing, and I examined its condition with a conservator.

The curators of Degas at the Opera were particularly interested in the Arts Center’s drawing because of its relationship to another Degas drawing in the Musée d’Orsay’s collection. The two drawings, presented side-by-side in the exhibition, depict the same group of dancers with one figure reaching down to adjust her ballet shoe.

Trois danseuses nues from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection (center) is on display between a work from collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (left) and a work from the Musée d’Orsay’s collection (right).

They’re both charcoal sketches – the artist was clearly working out a composition before adding costumes color and other details. Seeing these works together, it became clear to me that the Arts Center’s drawing is really a highlight of the exhibition.

While every loan does not require a courier, I travel a lot for my job and I’ve met a lot of museum professionals along the way. People I meet are sometimes surprised to realize the depth and breadth of our collection. I often hear some version of an incredulous “this is in Arkansas? I had no idea!” Seeing it installed at the Musée d’Orsay alongside works from some of the world’s most influential collections, I was excited to see that the Arkansas Arts Center’s collection is making an impact on an international audience.

Degas at the Opera was organized by the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where it will be presented from 1 March to 5 July 2020 on the occasion of the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Opera.

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Delta Exhibition to bridge Arkansas River

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Delta Exhibition, Exhibitions, Museum

The 61st Annual Delta Exhibition in 2019.

The Arkansas Arts Center’s 62nd Annual Delta Exhibition will be featured across venues in downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock in summer 2020. A portion of the exhibition’s artworks will appear at Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock while other selections are featured at the Thea Foundation and Argenta Gallery in the Argenta Arts District in downtown North Little Rock.  Expanding the Delta Exhibition out into the community is part of the Arts Center’s commitment to remaining vibrant, accessible and community-oriented while its MacArthur Park building is under construction over the next two-and-a-half years.

“We are always looking for opportunities to create strong community partnerships and deepen the community’s engagement with the arts,” Executive Director Victoria Ramirez said. “With this Delta Exhibition, we have an opportunity to bring the art into our communities and to celebrate art made in and about this region.”

Showcasing artists living and working in Arkansas and its border states, the Annual Delta Exhibition presents a vision of contemporary art in the American South. Founded in 1958, the exhibition provides a unique snapshot of the Delta region and features work in all media. The exhibition reflects the region’s strong traditions of craftsmanship and observation, combined with an innovative use of materials and an experimental approach to subject matter. With the Arts Center’s MacArthur Park building undergoing a transformational renovation, Chief Curator Brian Lang began searching for opportunities to bring the beloved Arts Center exhibition into other parts of the community.

“Every year, the Delta Exhibition creates a conversation about place through the art that is featured,” Lang said. “This year, we have the opportunity to add to that conversation – to engage with the Arkansas River and the communities on each side of it.”

The call for entries for the 62nd Annual Delta Exhibition will be open January 13 – March 22, 2020. The exhibition is open to all artists who live in or were born in one of the following states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee or Texas. All work must be completed during the last two years and must not have been exhibited previously at the Arkansas Arts Center. A guest juror will select the works to be featured in the exhibition as well as the award winners.

The guest juror, exhibition dates, and events for the 62nd Annual Delta Exhibition will be announced at a later date.

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Historic Museum of Fine Arts Façade Revealed

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Building, Museum, Video

 WPA-built façade will be the entrance to the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center

Construction equipment clears rubble from in front of the historic facade.

With construction underway on the Arkansas Arts Center’s MacArthur Park building, a piece of Arkansas history is once again visible from 9th Street. The 1937 façade of the Museum of Fine Arts – the precursor to the Arkansas Arts Center – was uncovered last week as construction crews cleared debris from the construction site.

When the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center opens in 2022, the façade will once again be the entrance to the Arkansas Arts Center, welcoming visitors through the north courtyard. Representing the institution’s proud 80-year legacy, the historic façade will play a prominent role in the MacArthur Park building’s new identity.

“Revealing this important piece of historic architecture is a striking symbol of what we hope to accomplish through a reimaged Arts Center,” Executive Director Victoria Ramirez said. “The Arkansas Arts Center will be the cultural beacon for the region and a source of pride that reflects who we are as a people and who we aspire to be: an Arkansas Arts Center that embraces both our history and our future.”

Beyond revealing the 1937 façade, Studio Gang and SCAPE’s design for the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center lends a new, highly visible architectural identity to the space. Reorganizing and ordering the current program and architectural envelope, Studio Gang has designed a pleated, organic architecture that connects the new north-facing city entrance with the new glass pavilion and south-facing park entrance to create an open axis public gallery through the building, connecting the program components of the Arts Center. Drawing inspiration from Little Rock’s unique regional ecologies – including the banks of Fourche Creek, the bluffs of Emerald Park, and the agrarian landscapes of the Mississippi Delta – SCAPE’s landscape design features inviting outdoor spaces that contribute to the AAC’s role as a cultural beacon for Arkansas.

The Museum of Fine Arts, designed by architect H. Ray Burks and built by the Works Progress Administration, was the precursor to the Arts Center. Remarks from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were read at the 1937 dedication of the museum in MacArthur Park – or what, at the time, was known as City Park. The limestone façade, designed by Little Rock artist Benjamin D. Brantley, is inscribed with “Museum of Fine Arts.” At the top of the two central pilasters, two carved relief figures – Painting personified on the left and Sculpture on the right – identify the museum as a space of art and creativity.

The 1937 Museum of Fine Arts Facade was built into the gallery walls as part of the 1982 Arkansas Arts Center renovation.

The façade was built into the interior gallery walls as part of the 1982 renovation to the Arkansas Arts Center, where it was visible in the Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery until the building closed for construction earlier this year. By 2019, the Arts Center’s MacArthur Park building was is made up of eight additions to the 1937 structure. In 1957, the Little Rock City Council granted the museum authority to expand its physical footprint – and with that expansion, the Museum also expanded its mission and changed its name. Winthrop and Jeannette Edris Rockefeller joined the Fine Arts Club and Junior League of Little Rock to create an Arts Center that would serve the entire state. Rockefeller led the fundraising campaign for the new Arkansas Arts Center, emphasizing the role of residents in contributing to build an institution that world serve all of Arkansas. Businesses and individuals from all parts of the state – including children who saved nickels and dimes in jars – made donations. In 1960, the Little Rock Board of Directors adopted an ordinance officially establishing the Arkansas Arts Center, and the new building opened in 1963. The building was also renovated and/or expanded in 1971, 1981, 1982, 1989, 2000 and 2001. 

The current renovation will be realized through a $128 million special fundraising campaign, Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future. At the October 1 groundbreaking ceremony, capital campaign co-chairs Harriet and Warrant Stephens announced that the campaign has raised more than $122.7 million of its $128 million goal.

Head of Facilities Erik Swindle and Executive Director Victoria Ramirez stand in front of the historic facade.

“We remain incredibly grateful to all of the donors to-date, the City of Little Rock, and the State of Arkansas for saying ‘yes’ to Art, and to the Arkansas Arts Center,” Campaign Co-Chair Harriet Stephens said. “The project is grand in scope and impact and will need the participation of many to reach an ambitious goal. As we anticipate the Grand Opening in 2022, we look forward to involving many more people in the campaign.”

The project will result in a comprehensive reenvisioning of the AAC by renowned architect Jeanne Gang and her practice, Studio Gang. The new AAC will include a revitalized landscape, designed by Kate Orff and SCAPE, which will expand the connections between the architecture and MacArthur Park. Both Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff are MacArthur fellows who have received prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grants. The campaign will also provide transition and opening support, and endowment funds. Scheduled for completion in early 2022, the project will strengthen the Arkansas Arts Center as the region’s leading visual and performing arts institution.

View From The North: Daytime view from downtown Little Rock of the Arkansas Arts Center’s new north entrance. The Cultural Living Room signals the new entrance from Crescent Drive, and creates a new courtyard plaza that reveals the historic, 1937 façade. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

“The new Arkansas Arts Center will stand as a noted architectural treasure in the heart of Arkansas, serving even more young people and adults, and attracting visitors from throughout the city, state, region, and nation,” Campaign Co-Chair Warren Stephens said. “The Campaign is an excellent example of the transformative power of a successful public/private partnership.”

Studio Gang is an architecture and urban design practice headquartered in Chicago, with offices in New York, San Francisco and Paris. Founded and led by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang’s award-winning work ranges in scale and typology from the 82-story Aqua Tower to the 14-acre Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, both located in Chicago. Gang has been recognized for a design process that foregrounds the relationship among people and their environments, and is the only architect named to TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2019. Studio Gang is currently designing cultural and civic projects across the Americas, including an expansion to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a new Center for the University of Chicago in Paris, a new United States Embassy in Brasilia, and a Global Terminal at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. This is Studio Gang’s first project in Arkansas.

SCAPE, founded by landscape architect and MacArthur Fellow Kate Orff, is a design-driven landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York. They believe landscape architecture can enable positive change in communities through the creation of regenerative living infrastructure and public landscapes. SCAPE works to integrate natural cycles and systems into environments across all scales, from the urban pocket-park to the regional ecological plan. They do this through diverse forms of landscape architecture – built landscapes, planning frameworks, research, books, and installations – with the ultimate goal of connecting people to their immediate environment and creating dynamic and adaptive landscapes of the future.

During construction, the Arkansas Arts Center has moved from its current facility in MacArthur Park into a temporary location at the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Classes, education programs, and performances will continue at the temporary location from Fall 2019 through the new Arts Center’s planned Grand Opening in 2022.

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The Arkansas Arts Center holds a Groundbreaking Ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction for its stunning new facility

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Building, Children's Theatre, Museum, Museum School

Designed by award-winning architect, Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang, and noted landscape architect, Kate Orff and SCAPE, the project is slated for completion in 2022

Arkansas Arts Center Foundation President Bobby Tucker, Board of Trustees President Merritt Dyke, SCAPE Founder and Design Director Kate Orff, Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Victoria Ramirez, Studio Gang Founding Principal Jeanne Gang, Capital Campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens, and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. at Tuesday’s Groundbreaking Ceremony

The Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) held a mid-morning Groundbreaking Ceremony today to commemorate the beginning of construction of its stunning, reimagined Arts Center. Upon completion in 2022, the current facility will be entirely transformed through an exciting design by renowned architect Jeanne Gang and her practice, Studio Gang. The project also includes a landscape design that will connect the AAC with the surrounding MacArthur Park, by award-winning designer Kate Orff and SCAPE. Both Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff are MacArthur Fellows who have received prestigious “Genius Grants” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“As we gather to commemorate the beginning of construction, today marks a major step forward toward ensuring that the Arkansas Arts Center is an important and flourishing cultural resource now and in the future,” said Campaign Co-Chair Warren Stephens. “This is a truly historic day in the life of our city, state, and region.”

“Today, we commit to ensuring that the Arkansas Arts Center will be a cultural beacon for the region, showcasing art that educates, inspires, provokes, and beautifies our lives. All people, from young to young at heart, will gather here as a community to celebrate, learn, and cross boundaries,” said Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director, Dr. Victoria Ramirez. “The project embraces the Arkansas Arts Center’s rich history and looks forward to a future that exceeds our expectations. I am honored to be working with all of you to make this vision a reality.”

View From The North: Daytime view from downtown Little Rock of the Arkansas Arts Center’s new north entrance. The Cultural Living Room signals the new entrance from Crescent Drive, and creates a new courtyard plaza that reveals the historic, 1937 façade. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

Architects Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff spoke at the Groundbreaking Ceremony, relaying key points about the project’s design and impact.

“The design for the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center features new and renovated spaces for gathering and community events to create dynamic connections among the state-of-the-art galleries and exhibitions, renovated Museum School, and upgraded Children’s Theatre,” said Jeanne Gang, Architect and Founding Principal of Studio Gang. “One of our main goals for the project is to allow the architecture to invite interaction, discovery, creativity, and learning.”

“The site design will provide a seamless transition between the Arkansas Arts Center and MacArthur Park,” said Kate Orff, Founder of SCAPE. “With native plantings, a tree canopy, walking paths, and a great lawn for events, the landscape design will provide useable and accessible space for visitors, and create a true ‘Arts Center in the Park’.”

Entrance from the South: Daytime view of the new south entrance to the Arkansas Arts Center, from MacArthur Park. A new restaurant with outdoor shaded seating overlooks the park, and connects to a new network of walking paths and stormwater-fed gardens designed by SCAPE. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

The project is made possible through Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future, a $128 million fundraising campaign, which will fund the new Arts Center for the 21st Century, and provide support for transition, opening, and endowment. At the Groundbreaking Ceremony, Campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens announced that the Campaign has now raised more than $122.7 million of its $128 million goal to-date.

The campaign includes a commitment of $31,245,000 from the City of Little Rock, which is being generated through a hotel-tax revenue bond. Lead donors include Windgate Foundation, Harriet and Warren Stephens, the State of Arkansas, and Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. The Campaign now has twenty-two “21st Century Founders” – donors who are contributing gifts of $1 million to $35 million. Thirty-two families and foundations are now leadership donors to the campaign, having given between $100,000 and $1 million. There are many others who have donated gifts, as well.  

estaurant Terrace On MacArthur Park: At the southern end of the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center, new pathways and plantings connect the building to MacArthur Park, including a new restaurant with outdoor shaded seating that overlooks the park, and new landscape features that include walking paths and a great lawn for community events. Image courtesy of Studio Gang and SCAPE.

“We remain incredibly grateful to all of the donors to-date, the City of Little Rock, and the State of Arkansas for saying ‘yes’ to Art, and to the Arkansas Arts Center,” said Campaign Co-Chair Harriet Stephens. “The project is grand in scope and impact and will need the participation of many to reach an ambitious goal. As we anticipate the Grand Opening in 2022, we look forward to involving many more people in the campaign.”

AAC Board of Trustees President, Merritt Dyke, and Little Rock Mayor, Frank Scott, Jr. also spoke to commemorate the occasion. Harriet and Warren Stephens, Dr. Victoria Ramirez, Jeanne Gang, Kate Orff, Merritt Dyke, and Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. were then joined by AAC Foundation Board Chair, Robert W. Tucker for the ceremonial groundbreaking. The celebration included performances by the Parkview Arts and Science Magnet Jazz Ensemble, the Episcopal Collegiate School Choir, and the Episcopal Collegiate Percussion Band for the capacity crowd.

During construction, the Arkansas Arts Center has moved from its current facility in MacArthur Park into a temporary location at the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Classes, education programs, and performances will continue at the temporary location from Fall 2019 through the new Arts Center’s planned Grand Opening in 2022.

Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center:
Campaign for Our Cultural Future
Donors To Date

21ST CENTURY FOUNDERS
Windgate Foundation
City of Little Rock
Harriet and Warren Stephens
Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust
State of Arkansas
Terri and Chuck Erwin
The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston
Mandy and Bill Dillard
Ben and Walter Hussman and Hussman Foundation
The Tyson Family in honor of Terri and Chuck Erwin
Stella Boyle Smith Trust
Chucki and Curt Bradbury
Anne and Merritt Dyke in honor of Helen L. Porter and James T. Dyke
Helen Porter and Jim Dyke
Dede and Scott Ford and Jo Ellen and Joe Ford
Robyn and John Horn
Keller Family Foundation: Julie Keller and Christoph Keller III;
Laura Porter Keller and Thomas Christoph Keller;
Mary Olive Keller Stephens and John Calhoun Stephens
Lynn and George O’Connor
Barbara Tyson
Anonymous (2)

LEADERSHIP DONORS
The Family of H. Tyndall and Carrie R. Dickinson
Jackye and Curtis Finch Jr
Lisenne Rockefeller
Belinda Shults
Dianne and Bobby Tucker
Trinity Foundation
Sandra and Robert C. Connor
Donna and Mack McLarty
The Middleton Family
Judy and Randy Wilbourn
Boots and Alan Warrick
Sunderland Foundation
Pam and Rick Blank
Virginia Stuart Cobb
Laura and Mark Doramus
Kelly and Brad Eichler
Cindy and Greg Feltus
Judy W. Fletcher in memory of John R. Fletcher
Rosalyn and Harry Hastings Family
Barbara Rogers Hoover
Mimi M. and Joseph B. Hurst, Jr.
W. W. and Anne Jones Charitable Trust
Jeanne and Harold Joyner in honor of Harriet and Warren Stephens
Kay and Bill Patton
Cindy and Warren Simpson
Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable Trust
Sherry Worthen in memory of George Worthen
Anonymous in honor of Merritt Dyke
Anonymous (4)

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Arkansas Arts Center remains vibrant in year of historic progress

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Artmobile, Building, Children's Theatre, Community, Delta 60, Education, Faculty & Staff, Museum, Museum School, News, Theater on Tour

Incoming Executive Director Victoria Ramirez joins Arts Center leadership in celebrating the year’s accomplishments

The Arkansas Arts Center continued to deliver accessible and engaging programs during a year of historic transition, leaders announced at the September 23 Annual Meeting. The Arts Center’s new Executive Director Victoria Ramirez joined Board of Trustees President Merritt Dyke, Foundation President Bobby Tucker and Interim Executive Director Laine Harber in congratulating the board, foundation, staff and community on a year of remarkable accomplishments.

Throughout a year of monumental change for the 56-year-old organization, the Arkansas Arts Center continued to offer dynamic and diverse programming in the Museum, Museum School and Children’s Theatre. Last year, the Arts Center also launched a $128 million capital campaign, a crucial step in realizing the transformation of its MacArthur Park home into a stunning new Arts Center for the 21st century. The Arts Center also established initiatives to remain vibrant, accessible and community-oriented while its MacArthur Park building is under construction over the next two-and-a-half years, including its move to a temporary space in the Riverdale Shopping Center and partnerships with the Central Arkansas Library System and other community organizations.

“It has been an honor to serve as interim director during this exciting year at the Arts Center,” Interim Director Laine Harber said. “I look forward to working closely with Victoria as she establishes a vision that will carry us into the future.”

Interim Executive Director Laine Harber poses with Junior Arts Academy students.

Harber has served as interim executive director since August 2018 while the Arts Center searched for a new permanent director. Last month, the Arts Center announced that Ramirez will join the Arkansas Arts Center as executive director.

Dr. Victoria Ramirez
Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez

“I congratulate and commend the board, foundation and staff on another successful year,” Ramirez said. “The Arts Center is well-known for its high-quality exhibitions and engaging programming – and its past successes will undoubtedly chart the course for the future. I look forward to building on this work at the Riverdale location and at the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center when it opens in 2022.”

At the meeting, Harber outlined several of the historic milestones reached over the past year. 

In May, the Arts Center launched Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future, a $128 million fundraising campaign to realize a stunning new Arts Center. At the May 15 announcement, Campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens announced that $118 million of the $128 million goal had been raised to-date.

Capital Campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens with Studio Gang Founder and Design Principal Jeanne Gang at the May 15 Capital Campaign Announcement.

“A remarkable group has come together with a clear understanding of the importance of reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center for the 21st Century,” Campaign Co-Chair Harriet Stephens said. “We will now reach out to the entire community and state for support to realize this once-in-a-lifetime project. Together, we can ensure that the Arkansas Arts Center is a thriving and influential cultural institution for present and future generations.”

The Arts Center also made significant strides toward its commitment to maintaining its community presence while construction begins on its MacArthur Park building with a partnership with the Central Arkansas Library System. Beginning this fall, visitors will find objects from the Arkansas Arts Center’s 1,500-work contemporary craft collection on view at 15 CALS locations. Carefully selected for the community relevance, each installation includes works that reference the environment, history and mission of the library branch where they’re located, illustrating the incredible diversity of the Arts Center’s collection of contemporary craft objects.

Visitors will also find some of their favorite Arts Center youth and adult programs at neighborhood libraries. Art Start, a collaboration between the Arkansas Arts Center and CALS, will be hosted monthly at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center. The program, designed for toddlers and pre-school-aged children, includes stories about art and artists, gallery activities and art-making projects. Super Sunday Free Family Funday, a monthly, free art-making program is also being held at the Children’s Library. Art Together, a partnership with Alzheimer’s Arkansas to provide an art experience for adults with dementia-spectrum disorders and their care partners, will be offered at the Cox Creative Center.  

The Arkansas Arts Center’s temporary location in Riverdale includes Museum School studios, Children’s Theatre rehearsal space, and exhibition and event space.

In February, the Arts Center announced a move to a temporary location at 2510 Cantrell Road to continue programming during construction. The move is one piece of the AAC’s commitment to remaining accessible to the community while its MacArthur Park facility is under construction, and to working with arts partners across the region to expand programming reach. The Riverdale location, which includes studio space for Museum School classes, design and rehearsal space for the Children’s Theatre, office space, and flexible education and exhibition space, is now open.

In April, the Arts Center launched Children’s Theatre Restaged. Through this expanded Children’s Theatre on Tour program, literary-based theatre productions will continue to travel to schools, community centers and libraries across Arkansas. The 2019–2020 Children’s Theatre on Tour season will include Wynken, Blynken and Nod: A Play for the Very Young (September 24 – October 20), A Christmas Carol (November 12 – December 20), The Arkansas Story Porch (January 23 – March 6), and The Wind in the Willows (April 7 – May 15).

In June, the Arts Center premiered DELTA 60, a documentary exploration of the artists and artwork featured in the Annual Delta Exhibition. The original documentary explores the innovative work featured in the 60th Annual Delta Exhibition through the eyes of 10 Arkansas artists. Following these artists as they create work that addresses place, identity, representation and history, DELTA 60 proves the power of art to challenge its viewers – and its makers. The documentary will be featured in the upcoming Fayetteville Film Festival.

Harber enumerated the year’s successful exhibitions, highlighting visitors’ reflections on the art left in gallery comment books and on social media. The Arts Center’s calendar of featured exhibitions represented a diverse range of artistic expression. Robert Baines: Living Treasure and Fabulous Follies explored the artists’ use of ancient metalworking techniques to challenge contemporary culture. Independent Vision: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Martin Muller Collection featured nearly 90 works San Francisco-based gallerist Martin Muller as a tribute to the Arts Center and the city of Little Rock. Photographing Frida: Portraits of Frida Kahlo/Fotografiando Frida: Retratos de Frida Kahlo offered a rare opportunity for visitors to see Frida Kahlo as she was captured by some of the 20th century’s most important photographers. POP! Out of the Vault: Andy Warhol’s Little Red Book explored a treasure trove of Pop Art found in the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection.

The Artmobile traveled 2,904 miles across Arkansas last year to serve 11,518 students.

Harber also highlighted several programming successes. Statewide ArtsReach programs visited 50 communities in 44 Arkansas counties, reaching 420,999 people. He noted a particularly sharp increase in the number of students enrolled in Museum School Classes. He also noted the Arts Center’s acquisition of 150 new memberships to the community of nearly 3,500 member households.

Foundation President Bobby Tucker briefly highlighted the acquisition of 89 works of art into the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection, including nine purchases and 80 donations.

Works from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection traveled a total of 6,362 miles to be loaned to museums across the country, including the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio, the Zimmerli Museum of Art at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tenn., Garvey|Simon in New York, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark., the Central Arkansas Library System Roberts Library in Little Rock, Ark., the Windgate Center for Art and Design in Little Rock, Ark., the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, Ark., the Bradbury Art Museum at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ark., and the Arts & Sciences Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff, Ark.   

Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees President Merritt Dyke accepts the Winthrop Rockefeller Award at the Arts Center’s Annual Meeting September 23.

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. recognized outgoing trustees Sara Hendricks Batcheller and Brenda Mize, as well as outgoing ex-officio trustees Mark Stodola for the City of Little Rock, Kelly Phillips for the Junior League of North Little Rock, Neil Gillespie for the Friends of Contemporary Craft, Jessie McClarty for the Contemporaries, and Susan Day for the docents. Board President Merritt Dyke recognized incoming trustees Dr. Laurence Alexander, Dr. Loren Bartole and Amanda Wilson Denton, reappointed trustees Kaki Hockersmith, Diane Jonsson, Patrick O’Sullivan, Terri Snowden, and Van Tilbury, incoming ex-officio trustees Frank Scott, Jr. for the City of Little Rock, Shantea Nelson for the Junior League of Little Rock, Jim Gorman for the Docents, and Heather Wardle for the Contemporaries, and reappointed ex-officio trustees Joe Smith for the City of North Little Rock and Kenya Eddings for the Junior League of Little Rock. Dyke also recognized former trustees who passed away in the past year.

Harber presented the “Winthrop Rockefeller Memorial Award” to Board of Trustees President Merritt Dyke. The award, presented each year, honors those who serve and support the arts and the Arkansas Arts Center above and beyond the normal call of duty, as demonstrated by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, for whom the award is named. The awardees are selected by a committee of past recipients, who are – by definition – the experts in public service through the arts.

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The Arkansas Arts Center announces the appointment of Dr. Victoria Ramirez as its new Executive Director

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Building, Museum, News

Dr. Ramirez’s leadership and vision will be key to fulfilling the promise of the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center, slated for completion in 2022

Dr. Victoria Ramirez
Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez

The Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Victoria Ramirez as its new Executive Director. A visionary leader in the museum field, with more than 20 years of executive-level museum administration experience, Dr. Ramirez has led renovation projects, developed exhibitions and education programs, and launched programmatic and 21st century digital initiatives to increase museum attendance and participation. She has also played an integral role in many fundraising campaigns, securing support from significant national foundations and major corporations.

Dr. Ramirez will come directly to the Arkansas Arts Center from her position as Director of the El Paso Museum of Art (EPMA), a municipal museum in El Paso, Texas that serves community members of all ages. While at EPMA, she oversaw all aspects of museum administration, operations and programming, including a collection of more than 7,000 works, 12 annual exhibitions, and a robust art school. She led gallery renovation activities; oversaw strategic planning; expanded the art school; increased attendance, membership and student engagement; and worked closely with the EPMA Foundation Board on planning and fundraising initiatives. Under Dr. Ramirez’s direction, the EPMA was awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor by the Institution for Museum and Library Services in recognition of dynamic programming and services.

Previously, Dr. Ramirez served as the Deputy Director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin Texas, where she oversaw a staff of 85 members and was responsible for all museum facilities, including permanent galleries, rotating exhibition spaces, two theatres, classrooms, café, store, and grounds. She was also the W.T. and Louise J. Moran Education Director at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, where she oversaw long-range planning and directed activities of the education department.

Dr. Ramirez holds an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston, in Houston, Texas; a M.A. in Museum Education and Art History from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and a B.A. in Art History from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. She is also a Member of the Task Force on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion in Museum Excellence for the American Alliance of Museums.

“We are truly honored to welcome Dr. Ramirez to the Arkansas Arts Center,” said Merritt Dyke, President of the Arts Center Board of Trustees. “Her deep experience in exhibitions, education, planning, and fundraising comes at the perfect time as we work to strengthen the Arkansas Arts Center as the regions’ premier center for the visual and performing arts. I’d like to offer my sincerest thanks to Laine Harber, our Chief Financial Officer, who has expertly served as the Interim Director of the Arts Center since August 2018.”

“The Arkansas Arts Center is a jewel for Little Rock and the region, and the project to re-envision the Arts Center will undoubtedly usher in the most expansive era in the institution’s history,” said Dr. Victoria Ramirez. “It is an honor and a privilege to be the new Executive Director during this transformative time. I am looking forward to working with the Arts Center’s Board, Foundation, staff, and Capital Campaign Co-Chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens to realize the vision for the new Art Center and launch its next, exciting chapter.”

“As we continue on our journey toward the Grand Opening of the reimagined Arkansas Arts Center in 2022, Dr. Ramirez is an ideal choice for Executive Director. The renovation project is grand in scope and impact, and her experience and vision will be central to fulfilling the promise of the new Arkansas Arts Center,” said Campaign Co-Chair Warren Stephens. “With the hiring of Dr. Ramirez, the Arts Center Board is reaffirming its commitment to the inspirational power and educational possibilities that art brings to the young people and adults in our city, state and region.”

The Arkansas Arts Center is currently conducting a $128 million special fundraising campaign, Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future, that will realize a stunning new Arts Center for the 21st Century. The project will result in a complete reenvisioning of the AAC by renowned architect Jeanne Gang and her practice, Studio Gang. The new AAC will include a landscape design, by Kate Orff and SCAPE, which will expand the connection between the AAC facility and MacArthur Park. Both Jeanne Gang and Kate Orff are award-winning architects and MacArthur fellows who have received prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grants. The Campaign will also provide transition and opening support, and endowment funds.

During construction, the Arkansas Arts Center has moved from its current facility in MacArthur Park into a temporary location at the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Classes, education programs and performances will continue at the temporary location from Fall 2019 through the new Arts Center’s planned Grand Opening in early 2022.

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Voices of the Delta: Emily Moll Wood

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Delta 61, Delta 61, Delta Exhibition, Exhibitions, Museum, Voices of the Delta

Emily Wood, Working Self-Portrait, 2018, watercolor and watercolor pencil on worn shirt, 13 x 28 x 2 inches

Working takes many forms, and it is how we spend so much of our waking hours. But what does it mean to work? I painted a self-portrait on one of my husband’s discarded “work shirts” to explore this question. For work, he wears one of these “work shirts” with a suit and tie and goes to an office. Am I “working” if I’m caring for a child at home and painting while naps, hopefully, happen? Am I “working” if I’m making art but not making a regular paycheck? Of course I am! But does society really think so? How does it affect others’ view and my own self-worth when sometimes it seems as though caring for kids and making art are not viewed as “work”?

The medium and surface used for this piece involves some control and some element of chance. I like to experiment with how watercolor paint spreads and/or the colors bleed together differently when using various types of fabrics as the surface. I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make the paint work – controlling it as much as the medium and surface will allow, but while also embracing the unpredictability of it. This is an appropriate metaphor to my life right now – raising small children while trying to maintain a career and grow as an artist. I’m learning to let go but finding ways to control what I can.

– Emily Moll Wood

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