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Arkansas Symphony Orchestra announces new $9 million music center

After 25 years in its current location, one of central Arkansas’ premier arts organizations is moving to a new home.

Officials with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new, 20,000 square foot music center to serve as its headquarters as well as a space for performances, rehearsals and education. Officially named the Stella Boyle Smith Music Center, the space will be located between the Clinton Presidential Center and the headquarters of Heifer International in Little Rock’s East Village.

ASO CEO Christina Littlejohn said the symphony has outgrown its current headquarters, Byrne Hall, on the grounds of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock.

“We need a place where our current number of students can take private lessons, group lessons, rehearse, video record themselves for auditions and more," Littlejohn said. "In the current space, there is no way. We can’t really serve the kids that we have right now, and much less grow and serve more children and adults.”

Littlejohn says the symphony is about 60% to its goal of raising $9 million for the new facility, in part thanks to a $500,000 donation from Simmons Bank.

The new space will feature classrooms, administrative offices and a performance hall, though most concerts will still take place at the Robinson Center in downtown Little Rock. ASO Interim Artistic Director Geoffrey Robson says the new facility will help further the symphony’s goal of educating and serving people from across the state.

“The orchestra’s players teach at all of the major universities in the state, we have alumni from our youth orchestras who are band directors, who work alongside school orchestra directors who are members of the symphony. And teaching students who currently come to Little Rock to participate in our programs is one of the most important things that we do,” Robson said.

Mike Mayton is trustee of the Stella Boyle Smith Trust, named for the philanthropist who created what later became the symphony in 1923.

“Stella Boyle Smith formed the Arkansas Symphony for the main purpose of educating young people about classical music. With this new building her mission will be accomplished and her dream will come true,” Mayton said. “Through the doors of this beautiful building, thousands of children from across our state will come and will be educated and will learn and will become musicians.”

The project is designed by Little Rock-based Witsell Evans Rasco Architects. Littlejohn says groundbreaking on the project could come as soon as next year.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.