Having undergone eight additions since its humble beginning as the Museum of Fine Arts in 1937, the Arkansas Arts Center will soon be getting a major redesign to unify the facility with itself, and the outside world.
Two architectural firms, Studio Gang and Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, have teamed up with New York-based landscape architectural firm SCAPE to create a concept design for the project.
Jeanne Gang heads Studio Gang, which has offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, and said the project’s pièce de résistance is a sweeping, nature-inspired form that bisects the existing facility.
“The big discovery I think we’ve made is, it’s not just about building a new building; it’s about editing,” Gang said. “The artistic vision and challenge to ourselves was, how do you make a straight axis exciting and do more than just connecting A and B?”
Both the north and south sides of the facility will feature new highly visible entrances for visitors approaching from downtown and Interstate 630. Inside, glass and wood extend the designers’ mission to incorporate the surrounding MacArthur Park into the building’s design. Expansions to the museum’s school and a new indoor/outdoor restaurant space also feature prominently.
Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Todd Herman emphasized the potential of marrying the center’s surroundings into its design.
“Since we exist in historic MacArthur Park, we want there to be a porosity that exists so that you’re encouraged to move from the arts center into the park and from the park into the arts center,” Herman said. “We’re going to do that through landscaping, through architecture, so that nature and art come together at the arts center.”
The project’s $70 million budget comes from a mix of private funds and a 2 percent lodging tax approved by Little Rock voters in 2016. With the Arkansas Arts Center’s most recent addition completed in 2001, the new project is set to be complete more than two decades later in 2022.
Groundbreaking on the project is scheduled for fall 2019.