Trustees and leadership of the Arkansas Arts Center determined that this historic institution in the capital of Little Rock, currently in the midst of a $142 million transformation, will now be known as the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA), reaffirming its leading role in cultural life throughout the state. Redesigned as a thoroughly new experience by the MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winners Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects and Kate Orff of SCAPE Landscape Architecture with an increase in space of almost 50 percent and the addition of 10 acres of new grounds, the reinvented Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is scheduled to open in spring 2022.
AMFA leaders revealed that the capital campaign supporting the building project has now secured $135,944,426, surpassing the costs of construction, and that the fundraising goal is being increased to $142 million to ensure additional support for operations and programs serving the people of Little Rock and the state and visitors from around the nation.
Located amid Little Rock’s other cultural and civic institutions including the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, AMFA offers the public distinguished, internationally important collections, popular exhibition programs, an art school providing instruction at levels from beginner to professional, and an active performing arts program. The redesign raises the profile of AMFA in its community and the museum field by imaginatively unifying a collection of structures built in stages from 1937 through 2000, transforming them into an inviting experience that both opens itself to the fabric of downtown Little Rock and extends the museum seamlessly into the city’s beloved MacArthur Park.
The new name is both a promise for the future and a nod to the past. The institution opened in MacArthur Park in 1937 as the Museum of Fine Arts and became the Arkansas Arts Center in 1959. As part of the architectural project, which began in 2016, the original Art Deco façade from 1937 bearing the name “Museum of Fine Arts” will be revealed once again, as part of the north entrance of the new AMFA.
Designing the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts
The signature feature of Studio Gang’s design is a new structure winding gently through the length of the museum, called the Blossom because of its form. Defined outwardly by its pleated roof, the Blossom now becomes the core of the visitor experience, laying out a clear path for visitors, uniting the museum’s programmed spaces, and providing major new public features at either end: an expansive glass-enclosed gathering space overlooking the Downtown side and a restaurant that spreads out into MacArthur Park.
Seamlessly joining the landscape experience with the museum, the project provides 2,200 linear feet of new paths and trails throughout 13 acres of MacArthur Park for the public to enjoy. Inspiration for the landscape is drawn from Little Rock’s unique regional ecologies, including the banks of Fourche Creek, the bluffs of Emerald Park, and the agrarian landscapes of the Mississippi Delta. SCAPE’s design relies on sustainable, native plantings and incorporates more than 50 species of perennials, shrubs, native trees, and ornamental grasses. Many of MacArthur Park’s mature trees are preserved in the design and incorporated into a framework of some 250 new trees, which over time will create a canopy throughout the park.
Designed with the care for sustainability that is a hallmark of the work of Studio Gang and SCAPE, the building’s pleated roof allows for the collection of storm water, which will feed the park’s new gardens and native perennial meadows.
A Century of History behind the AMFA
The history of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts dates back more than 100 years. In 1914, a group of Little Rock women formed the Fine Arts Club with a mission to bring the arts to Arkansas. The Fine Arts Club planted the seeds for the Museum of Fine Arts, which was built by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1937.
In 1959, the then Museum of Fine Arts launched a fundraising campaign, led by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, to create the Arkansas Arts Center. Rockefeller emphasized the role of residents in contributing to build an institution that would serve all Arkansans. Businesses and individuals from all parts of the state – including children who saved nickels and dimes in jars – made donations. In 1960, the Little Rock Board of Directors adopted an ordinance officially establishing the Arkansas Arts Center, and the building opened in 1963. Over the next 50 years, the building underwent several expansions. In a 1982 renovation and expansion of the MacArthur Park campus, the original Art Deco façade of the Museum of Fine Arts was preserved as a feature of the building’s interior galleries.