The Arkansas Arts Center finished its seventh consecutive year in the black this June, Executive Director Todd Herman announced at the August 21 Annual Meeting. It was a year of milestone accomplishments, including a 10-year reaccreditation, selection of an architectural team for the AAC building project, completion of a five-year strategic plan, and a successful Tabriz.
The AAC also rebranded its onsite restaurant, Canvas, updating both the restaurant and Museum Shop spaces, and launched a new ecommerce website allowing patrons the convenience of integrated shopping carts, personalized benefits for members and online season ticket reservations, resulting in an improved user experience.
“Our staff has worked tirelessly over the past fiscal year to enhance the visitor experience, expand audiences and deepen engagement with our community,” Executive Director Todd Herman said. “Those efforts have been recognized by the American Alliance of Museums as well as our members and patrons through strong attendance for exhibitions and programs, and generous support of our fundraising efforts and events. We are very proud of everything we have accomplished.”
The Arkansas Arts Center was awarded reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums in February. Of the nation’s estimated 35,000 museums, just over 1,000 are currently accredited. Accreditation signifies excellence to the museum community, to governments, funders, outside agencies, and to the museum-going public.
“We commend the Arts Center for expanding its outreach locally and statewide; this has clearly led to widespread community support and acclaim,” said Burt Logan, chair of the AAM Accreditation Commission and Executive Director and CEO of the Ohio History Commission. “Your accomplishments in fundraising, aligning resources and strengthening your relationship with the City of Little Rock demonstrate the Art Center’s leadership and positive impact on those it serves.”
Accreditation is a rigorous process that examines all aspects of a museum’s operations. To earn accreditation, a museum first must conduct a year of self-study, and then undergo a site visit by a team of peer reviewers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an independent and autonomous body of museum professionals, considers the self-study and visiting committee report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.
“They also have put the museum back on solid footing with its peer institutions, and turned the AAC into a catalyst for community pride and economic redevelopment in downtown Little Rock,” the report said “It is an impressive turnaround.”
The Arts Center also finalized the architectural team for its upcoming renovation project. Studio Gang Architects will serve as design architect, and Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox will serve as the associate architect.
Founded by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an award-winning architecture and urbanism practice based out of Chicago and New York. A recipient of the 2013 National Design Award, Jeanne Gang was also named the 2016 Architect of the Year by the Architectural Review and the firm was awarded the 2016 Architizer A+ award for Firm of the Year.
Studio Gang is recognized internationally for a design process that foregrounds the relationships between individuals, communities and environments. The firm has extensive knowledge in museum, theatre and artist studio spaces, with projects ranging from the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Ill. to the Aqua Tower in Chicago to the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
“Designing a re-envisioned Arkansas Arts Center is a truly exciting commission,” Gang said. “Its extraordinary collection, historic MacArthur Park setting, and rich mix of programs present a unique opportunity to redefine how the arts can strengthen local communities and surrounding regions. We look forward to working closely with the AAC to discover how architecture can enhance the Center’s important civic and cultural mission by creating new connections between people and the arts in Little Rock and beyond.”
“We are thrilled to partner with the Arkansas Arts Center and Studio Gang on this transformative project,” Polk Stanley Wilcox Principal David Porter said. “AAC has cast an exciting vision to rethink not only how the Center upgrades the interior and exterior spaces, but how the AAC connects to and enriches the broad arts and cultural tapestry of Little Rock. Studio Gang is a uniquely talented firm to lead the design effort. PSW is honored to bring our extensive experience from years of important projects in downtown Little Rock to come alongside them and the AAC to help create this next critical milestone for the city, state and region.”
The Arkansas Arts Center completed a five-year strategic plan this past fiscal year, outlining the goals and initiatives that will take the Arts Center into the future. The Mission, Vision, Core Values, goals and strategies contained in the plan reflect three years of data collection and community conversations that define the passion of the staff and supporters of the Arts Center.
The scope of the strategic plan covers the projected design and construction phase of the building project. Therefore, special attention is given to ‘transitional goals’ with attention also given to those strategies that will define the AAC via its new mission and vision upon re-opening.
The strategic plan is organized around six essential, shared initiatives. These key initiatives advance critical, institution-wide goals that the AAC is collectively committed to achieving. Success will result in ‘moving the needle’ in terms of civic involvement, arts education and cultural significance.
The key initiatives outlined in the plan are:
• Enhance the Visitor Experience: It is essential that our visitors experience the highest quality interaction with staff at all levels– including website and onsite navigation– and that the facility, signage, and content convey a feeling of welcome, inspiration, and engagement.
• Expand Audience and Deepen Engagement: The Arts Center must continue to promote the importance of arts and culture as an essential element of quality of life and civic development throughout all sectors of the community. It will utilize its artistic and human resources to create educational opportunities that enhance the human experience.
• Ensure Fiscal Stability: The Arts Center will work diligently and purposefully to secure the financial resources necessary to fulfill our mission, grow responsibly, and ensure our vitality for future generations.
• Elevate Visibility: Increase the profile of the Arts Center’s artistic and human resources regionally, nationally and internationally, and become a recognized leader in the arts and cultural fabric of the community.
• Encourage Innovation: Empower staff to be leaders in arts education and find creative initiatives that enhance our mission and achieve our vision.
• Embrace Diversity through Deliberate Institutional Initiatives: Recognize the spectrum of diversity within the community and reflect those backgrounds and voices throughout all levels of leadership, staff, and programs.
• Expand and Renovate the Arts Center Facility: The physical building should be a partner in our mission of engaging and energizing the public through art, both internally and externally, and should meet museum standards for care and display of our world-class collection.
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola recognized outgoing trustees Chucki Bradbury, Mary Ellen Irons and Shep Russell, as well as outgoing ex-officio trustees Clarke Huisman for the Contemporaries, Jamie Huffman Jones for the Junior League of Little Rock and Pat Luzzi for the docents.
Herman also took a moment to remember longtime Arts Center Executive Director Townsend Wolfe. Wolfe, who passed away January 14, served as Executive Director and Chief Curator from 1968 until 2002. In that time, he helped the Arts Center realize its potential, focusing the collection in the areas of drawing and contemporary craft. Wolfe’s legacy can be felt across the institution today.
Also in this past fiscal year, the Arkansas Arts Center held its biennial fundraiser, Tabriz. The Thursday night “Auction in the City” was attended by 850 patrons, and 330 attended the Saturday night gala, with special entertainment by The Midtown Men. Both events raised more than $800,000 for Arts Center acquisitions and programming. Tabriz was chaired by David and Terri Snowden of Little Rock.
Statewide ArtsReach programs visited 68 communities in 43 Arkansas counties. Children’s Theatre on Tour performed 105 shows at 73 venues, and those productions were enjoyed by 38,006 people. The Artmobile traveled 2,867 miles across the state, reaching 11,470 students. In addition, the Young Arkansas Artists exhibition at the Clinton National Airport reached more than 650,000 travelers.
Over the past fiscal year, 78 lectures, gallery talks, film screenings and hands-on art-making activities were held at the Arts Center. Two major exhibitions, Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience and Ansel Adams: Early Works, saw strong attendance with 10,972 visitors. 396 volunteers donated 9,000 hours of their time to make programming possible, the Arts Center boasted 3,359 member households and welcomed visitors from 44 states.
In the Museum School, 298 visual art classes and workshops were offered for 2,226 adult students, as well as 50 youth classes and special programs for 513 youth students, including 96 attendees of the popular annual Junior Arts Academy, now in its 21st year.
In the Children’s Theatre, 166 performances were held for 40,350 children and families, including 80 school shows for 189 schools across the state. The Children’s Theatre also offered programs for 220 students.
The Arkansas Arts Center also formed and strengthened partnerships with organizations across the community, including Booker Arts Magnet School, the UALR photography department, the Architecture and Design Network, Dillard’s Park Plaza Mall, Alzheimer’s Arkansas and Parkway Village Senior Living Community.
Herman’s presentation on Monday also highlighted the acquisition of 106 works of art, including 38 purchases and 68 donations of art. A generous bequest from the William E. Davis Estate included more than 700 items, including prints and negatives by Davis and his contemporaries.
Works from the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection traveled a total of 47,280 miles to be loaned to museums across the world, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio, Kunstmuseum Basel in Basel, Switzerland, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia and Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
Herman previewed the upcoming exhibitions slated for 2017. The exhibition calendar begins with The Art of Seating, on display September 29 through December 31, 2017. The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design, organized by MOCA Jacksonville and featuring 43 works from the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen Ph.D. Foundation, is the first comprehensive survey of American chair design.
A Luminous Line: Forty Years of Metalpoint Drawings by Susan Schwalb will be on view January 26 through April 15, 2018.
Herman also previewed Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work, on view at the Arts Center January 26 through April 22, 2018. Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work, organized by the Arkansas Arts Center, surveys Marin’s career. The exhibition features several pieces from a collection of 290 donated to the Arkansas Arts Center by Norma Marin in 2014.
The 60th Annual Delta Exhibition, the Arkansas Arts Center’s yearly exhibition of juried work from the Mississippi Delta-region, will be on view May 25 through August 26, 2018. The exhibition highlights innovative contemporary art from the region.
The 2017–2018 Children’s Theatre season features six Main Stage shows: Giggle, Giggle, Quack (September 22 – October 8, 2017); Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium (October 27 – November 12, 2017); Mother Goose Christmas (December 1 – December 17, 2017); The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats (February 2 – February 18, 2018); Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook (March 9 – March 31, 2018) and Stone Soup (April 27 – May 13, 2018).
Herman announced the upcoming fundraiser Beaux Arts Ball, slated for May 5, 2018 at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Herman presented the 2015-2016 Arkansas Arts Center “Employee of the Year” award to Facility Rental and Event Coordinator Jean Heslip. Facilities Manager John Pagan went on medical leave in October, and eventually retired. In his absence, Jean assumed many of the roles of facilities manager while continuing to plan beautiful and creative events for Arts Center members and guests.
“Jean is a hard-working, behind-the-scenes person, but she’s no stranger to those she supports,” said Laine Harber, deputy director and chief financial officer. “While taking on additional responsibilities a few years ago, Jean stepped up to an entirely new level in fiscal year 2016-2017, helping out over and above her regular responsibilities. Jean is an asset to the Arts Center, and one we would be at a loss without.”
The “Winthrop Rockefeller Memorial Award” is presented each year to honor those who serve and support the arts and the Arkansas Arts Center beyond the normal call of duty, a duty so well 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.
Herman presented the 2016-2017 Winthrop Rockefeller Award to George O’Connor.
After the meeting, attendees were provided solar eclipse viewing glasses and gathered outside to witness the solar phenomenon before returning to the Arts Center to enjoy a catered lunch reception.
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