Arkansas Arts Center Prepares To Open At Temporary Site During Renovation

Aug 22, 2019

Boxes are being unpacked at the Arkansas Arts Center's temporary home in the Riverdale Shopping Center in Little Rock.
Credit David Monteith / KUAR News

The Arkansas Arts Center is, for now, saying goodbye to its MacArthur Park location. The Little Rock institution is hosting a farewell party at, and for, its longtime home on Saturday. It was founded as a museum of fine art in 1937 and is temporarily relocating to a former Wal-Mart building in the Riverdale Shopping Center while renovations happen over the next two-and-a-half years. 

In 2016, voters approved a 2% lodging tax increase to fund the $70 million renovation project. Manager of Member Experience Spencer Jansen says Saturday’s celebration will include karaoke, bouncy castles, and a room full of sand.

"We wanted to try and highlight things that you always wanted to do, but were always told no because there's priceless artwork around the building," Jansen said.

The farewell festivities will be family-friendly from 2- 5 p.m. After 5 p.m. participants must be 21 or older. The event is for Arts Center members only, but memberships can be purchased on-site.

A little over a week after the farewell celebration, doors will open at the Arts Center's new home in the Riverdale area. Miranda Young, associate director of the museum school, says some of the art classes will be moved to partner locations, but most will be held at the new site.

"Its been interesting how easy it is to turn a freezer into a kiln room for our ceramics studio and how perfectly set up these kind of spaces behind the scenes at a grocery store are for an arts school," Young said. "It’s just nice, clean, big spaces that we can really turn into whatever we want them to be."

Partial walls divide up the former grocery store, which is mostly dedicated to continuing the painting, ceramics, woodworking and other classes the center has become known for. Classes are scheduled to begin early in September.

Angel Galloway, the Arts Center's director of communications, says the move has prompted collaborations with other area institutions because the Riverdale site has less space available for art exhibitions.

"We’re really excited about our partnership with CALS [Central Arkansas Library System]. Our collection works are going to be hosted in a variety of CALS locations across central Arkansas, so people can still see our craft collection works out in the community. And we hope to have those installations completed mid-2020," Galloway said. She said the organization is finding ways of maintaining some of the well-known annual exhibitions.

"We have two really popular exhibitions: the young Arkansas artists' exhibition, and then the annual Delta exhibition. And those two exhibitions will continue at other off-site locations at dates to be announced. We know they're really popular with the community."

The children's theater program will have a space in the temporary facility, but Galloway says more of its shows will be on the road during the transition.

"We’re not going to be having the six-show season that normally took place in the other theater, but they are planning, and very much want to have performances [at the Riverdale site]. But in addition to that, the children's theater on tour program is expanding all across the state. They've added more shows to that, and so we'll actually be getting out into more communities than we ever have before," she said.

The Riverdale site, at 2510 Cantrell Rd, will be open to the public on Tuesday, Sept. 3.