On February 27, 2018, the Arkansas Arts Center unveiled design plans for a renovation that would cost $70 million.
Construction for the museum is scheduled to begin later this year, and the center is expected to open in 2022. The upgrades, led by architecture firm Studio Gang, include new exhibition areas, a children’s theater space, an expanded educational facility, a glass-enclosed walkway, a garden, and the uncovering of the institution’s original facade from 1937. The $24 million budget increase, which does not include additional costs such as architectural or consultants’ fees, will be taken care of by private funds.
Officials originally explained that $50 million in private donations would complement general obligation bonds approved by Little Rock constituents for the expansion of the museum, whose artworks are owned by the nonprofit Arkansas Arts Center Foundation. “It’s a more expensive project than we originally thought it would be,” Studio Gang owner Jeanne Gang said. “You discover things. There’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of, also, ambition for the project to make it visible, to make it really bring the institution up to the next level.”
The building is currently made up of eight different structures that were added over a period of time to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, built in 1937. Studio Gang’s aim is to offer a more coherent layout, as well as provide additional space for the AAC’s expansive public arts programming of classes, lectures and film showings.
Among the main features of the project is the introduction of a new axis, which will cut through the center of the building. It will lead from the northern entrance facing Crescent Drive to the 36-acre MacArthur Park on the southern side.
Four glazed volumes featuring curved walls and folded roofs will join up to form the axis – a new entrance will be placed at the front with walls angled to open up to the city, while three others will trail towards the park at the rear, ending with a double-height dining room.
Around 127,000 square feet of space will be added or revamped. The enhanced location will feature an edition of British sculptor Henry Moore’s Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, 1976, which is currently on view in the city’s Union National Plaza.
Polk Stanley Wilcox is the associate architect and SCAPE is the landscape architect. More members of the consulting team were added throughout 2018.