The layout of the Arkansas Arts Center, with its two entrances, confusing connectivity and a crazy quilt of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, presents a number of challenges for its renovation and expansion, architects from the Studio Gang firm told the board of directors today.
Juliane Wolf, with the Chicago firm hired by the Arts Center, enumerated other challenges: The great architectural feature of the permanent collection gallery — the original stone WPA entrance — is easily missed, thanks to the way one enters the gallery; the Wolfe gallery, with air vents coming up under the works, has problems, and the large atrium doesn’t help visitors find their way to the galleries.
The list of challenges was so long that Wolf gave a slight giggle at its conclusion, saying she didn’t mean to sound so negative.
But the potential is great, Wolf said. Architects are thinking of a “cultural living room”: a multipurpose lobby that will attract visitors to gather before and in between visits to the galleries, the theater and the school and can be used for special events. People stay longer when there is such a place, Wolf said. A drawing research center would allow the collection to be more visible and give greater access to scholars and the public is suggested. The vault for art needs to be expanded and its technology brought up to date, and a conservation area would benefit the Arts Center.
Wolf said architects hope to bring in daylight to an expanded lecture hall and provide a view of what’s happening there and in the art studios from the park. Wolf also suggested an art loop with an “architectural wow” in the park and a family “adventure center” in the museum associated with the park. (Studio Gang will not be redoing MacArthur Park, but has ideas on how future development could benefit the Arts Center.)
“Are we getting budget creep?” asked board member Patrick O’Sullivan. No, AAC Director Todd Herman said; a cost consultant is already on board helping the design team and staff keep things in line with the construction budget of $46 million. Herman said the Arts Center will be careful not to build a facility it can’t operate.
With soft costs, the total project will total $60 million to $65 million, depending on what the $37.2 million bond issue will yield. Another $20 million will be raised for the endowment. The building’s footprint will grow from 108,000 square feet to roughly 140,000 square feet.
Mayor Mark Stodola said a request for proposals for bond underwriting has gone out. The bonds will be paid off by a penny tax charged by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau on hotel rooms and another penny for parks.
The Arkansas Arts Center Foundation is raising the private dollars for the Arts Center renovation and expansion. That fundraising is still in the quiet phase; $2.5 million in cash has been raised and more has been raised in pledges. Once there are drawings of what the new Arts Center will look like, fundraising will go public, Herman said.