Arkansas Arts Center, Ahead of Goal, Gets New Name, Look

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The Arkansas Arts Center, undergoing a $100 million renovation and expansion, is getting a new name, too.

Museum backers on Monday renamed the Arts Center as the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, and they increased a multimillion-dollar fundraising goal to pay for the expansion to $142 million from $128 million. They’ve already raised $135.9 million.

Campaign Co-Chairs Warren and Harriet Stephens, AFMA Executive Director Victoria Ramirez, AFMA Board of Trustees President Van Tilbury and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced the name change and capital campaign updates at the construction site in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park.

The new building is set to open in 2022. The new name is a throwback to the institution’s past but is also intended to be forward-thinking, museum leaders said. It also puts the museum in line with similar institutions in the region: the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson and Dallas Museum of Art.

Video: Arkansas Business talked to Ramirez last summer about renovation progress and what’s new at the museum.

The nonprofit opened as the Museum of Fine Arts in 1937 but became the Arkansas Arts Center in 1959. The current renovation project began in 2016. 

“The name, Arkansas Arts Center, is a great name we all grew up with, but we didn’t feel like it was very descriptive,” Warren Stephens told Arkansas Business. Harriet Stephens said the new name better conveys that the museum is a “world class” destination. 

“It’s very close to our hearts, and we really want this to be here for this next generation,” she said. “We have children here. We have grandchildren here.”

The Stephenes issued a challenge to contribute to the fundraising campaign during the news conference.

“The reasons to support this campaign are numerous,” Warren Stephens said. “The campaign for our cultural future is about more than the construction of the new museum building. It is a campaign for our community and, indeed, our future. 

“Some contribute because they believe that the arts improve the quality in our community. Some recognize the economic benefits and want to invest in Little Rock and stimulate development in our state. And others see this impressive new building and recognize how a museum can boost tourism throughout the state, the nation and beyond.”

New Goal

The fundraising campaign, called “Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for our Cultural Future,” will provide transition and opening support for the museum while strengthening its endowment to support operations, exhibitions, acquisitions and education and outreach programming. 

Campaign money will also be used to preserve the museum’s historic art deco façade from 1937, install more programming space (including an additional 1,000 SF of gallery space) and expand the project’s landscape footprint.

Rameriz told Arkansas Business that the enthusiasm people have had for the campaign “is remarkable.”

“Harriet and Warren Stephens are extraordinary,” she said. “They have connected with all of their friends, and, I think because they are so trusted in the community, that people know if they’re putting their name behind this organization then it is a good investment. And that’s what it is. This kind of partnership doesn’t come along very often.”

The capital campaign includes a $31.2 million contribution from the city, generated by a hotel tax revenue bond its residents voted to approve in 2016.