Art museum on track for ’22 opening
Facility’s new signature features include winding roof, glass-enclosed spaces
The revamped Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will reopen to the public in May of 2022, officials announced Thursday, a date that aligns with the long-held timeline for finishing what has become a $142 million project.
Formerly called the Arkansas Arts Center, the downtown Little Rock museum closed for construction in the summer of 2019.
“It’s really coming into focus,” said Jeanne Gang, founding principal of Chicago-based Studio Gang, the project’s lead designer.
Gang, when visiting Little Rock in 2017, described the old space as “fortresslike,” and said she wanted to design a building that was more inviting and easier to navigate.
Roughly three-quarters of the old building was torn down, with the remainder incorporated into the new design.
Several key new features include a winding, curved concrete roof often described as the building’s spine.
Other signature elements are a glass-enclosed gathering space facing the city’s skyline, the reuse of the original 1937 “Museum of Fine Arts” facade as the building’s north entrance at Ninth Street, and expanded gallery space.
Aside from serving as a museum, the building will accommodate the center’s arts school, children’s theater, a restaurant and new gathering spaces. It will also be better aligned with surrounding MacArthur Park.
Officials invited media members to tour the workin-progress Thursday. Scaffolding dominates much of the interior, but the project’s planners walked reporters through the building, showing off how rooms and walk
ways connect to one another.
Accompanying Gang and museum officials were landscape architect Kate Orff and local architectural partner Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock.
Orff, founding principal of the New York-based firm SCAPE, explained how different parts of the building’s interior will connect with the outdoors. Large glass windows and doors in classrooms, for instance, will lead to an arts yard.
A national firm will manage the restaurant and catering, partnering with local chefs and eateries, said Victoria Ramirez, executive director of the museum. She did not disclose the company, but said it works in museums across the country.
The restaurant’s menu will be flexible and could change periodically, she said.
Plans to expand and renovate the museum date to 2015.
More than $31 million in funding comes from hotel tax-backed bonds approved by Little Rock voters in 2016, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson contributed $5 million from the state’s rainy-day fund.
Most of the other money is from private gifts, including $35 million from the Windgate Foundation and $5 million from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.
At least 19 other commitments have topped $1 million each, officials said during a January announcement that fundraisers had secured close to $136 million in total pledges. That outstripped what was a $128 million target. Officials now hope to raise $142 million.
Admission to the museum will remain free.