Studio Gang image of the new Arkansas Arts Center at completion. Studio Gang Architects

Only two years ago, the Arkansas Arts Center had a budget of $7.3 million. But thanks to the AAC’s reduction in programming while its new $128 million building is under construction and the further blow of COVID-19’s blow to revenues, the AAC board of trustees approved what it called a “bare-bones” $5.08 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 21.

In-person classes and programming in the Riverdale facility now housing the Arts Center were ended because of the pandemic, a move that cost the AAC nearly $400,000, CFO Laine Harber told the trustees today. Cuts to administrative, printing, marketing and theater production costs and the halt to the Artmobile should produce the Arts Center’s 11th straight year of balanced budgeting, he said.

However, the budget does not reflect $2.7 million the AAC will need to spend in maintenance and landscaping on the new Arts Center in MacArthur Park, set to open in 2022, and one-time initiatives, including a new website and software for the collection. Those funds will come from “other sources,” likely to include the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation, the nonprofit private group that supports the Arts Center and holds its collection. The Arts Center will get the keys to the new building in MacArthur Park in the first half of 2021 and begin the move back from the Riverdale facility.

Director Victoria Ramirez told the board that the focus is now on the new building; she said innovative programming should be in keeping with the expanded Arts Center. Trustees were given a drone’s eye view of construction; the pleated roof should strike viewers, and donors, as an appealing and unique architectural detail, Ramirez said. In an executive committee meeting before the trustees meeting, the director said in response to a trustee’s concern about the “wild and woolly landscaping” designed by the landscape architecture firm SCAPE for the grounds of the Arts Center, that the design “has been refined a bit,” though there will still be native species landscaping, walking paths, an event lawn and outdoor sculpture.

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Ramirez and incoming board of trustees chairman Van Tilbury urged trustees who have not yet made good on their annual support to do so by the September annual meeting. Van Tilbury replaces Merritt Dyke, who has been chair for a busy three years, a time Dyke noted included the new building’s kickoff, the resignation of one director (Todd Herman), the appointment of an interim director (Harber) and the hiring of a new one (Ramirez), the move to Riverdale and the COVID-19 pandemic.