Merritt Dyke of the Arts Center Board of Trustees, Kate Orff of SCAPE landscape architects, Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez, architect Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang, Harriett Stephens, Warren Stephens and Mayor Frank Scott at the groundbreaking.

Ground was broken this morning on the new Arkansas Arts Center that will refashion, expand and bring state-of-the-art gallery space and more to the city’s longtime arts institution in MacArthur Park. The event, held under a white tent set with flowers, refreshments and images of the new Arts Center to come and attended by hundreds, was the official start to what will be two years of construction to open the center in spring of 2022.

Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez, whose first day on the job is today, told the hundreds gathered that she told Mayor Frank Scott the other day “that the transformed Arts Center will put Little Rock on the cultural destination map, and I am a woman of my word.” Ramirez, who comes to Little Rock from the El Paso Museum of Art, said she “could not be more proud or more privileged” to lead the Arts Center. The mayor called the groundbreaking “a historic day” and said the Arts Center would be a “beacon of light for our city,” one that would unite the city. 

Warren Stephens, who with his wife, Harriet, co-chairs the capital campaign, announced that $122.7 million has been raised toward the goal of $128 million, and that the goal amount is “just a number” and fundraising won’t stop there.

The Tyson Family’s gift of $1 million, new since the May launch of the public portion of the capital campaign, raises the number of $1 million-plus donors, members of the 21st Century Founders,” to 21 groups. Those gifts include $35 million from the Windgate Foundation, $32.1 million from the Little Rock from a hotel-tax revenue bond, $5 million from the state, $5 million from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust and what has been described as a “transformational lead gift” by the Stephenses. The museum school will be named for the Windgate Foundation, which has given hundreds of millions of dollars in the past several years to arts facilities across Arkansas, including the University of Arkansas, UA Fort Smith, UA Little Rock, the University of Central Arkansas, Hendrix College, Arkansas State University and many other entities. The new gallery for temporary exhibitions will be named for the Stephenses. Thirty-two families have given between $100,000 and $1 million.