This Saturday, April 22, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will see the completion of a nearly decade-long journey as it opens its doors to the public with a new look, new name and new life.
To date, the AMFA capital campaign has raised more than $160 million in order to execute a full renovation of the MacArthur Park structure with designs that have caught the attention of architecture enthusiasts the world over, while including nods to its roots, such as the original 1937 facade reinstated as the north entrance of the museum.
On Tuesday, members of the media were invited to explore the 133,000-square-foot museum, which houses the more than 14,000 works in its collection, while hearing from some of the leaders of the project.
AMFA Executive Director Dr. Victoria Ramirez referenced the museum being "literally and figuratively built on the foundation of the Arkansas Arts Center," and described the new space as "inspiring, functional and welcoming."
Jeanne Gang, founding principle and partner of architecture firm Studio Gang, noted the former building was "ahead of its time" in how it continually re-built and added onto itself to serve the community, but eventually became "a victim of its own success" with flow and ease of navigation suffering as a result.
She designed the new structure to be "intuitive" and "energizing," with the eye-catching ceiling installation acting as a "central spine" running north to south, connecting galleries and gathering spaces before it "unfurls like a blossom into the landscape."
Kate Orff, founder of landscape architecture firm SCAPE, said her team quickly fell in love with the Arkansas landscape and wanted to "echo the beauty and wildness" while discovering the best way to have "architecture, landscape, sky and ground come together."
The 11-acre project is filled with a mix of newly-planted native plants and existing foliage that "knit the grounds into MacArthur Park" with future generations in mind.
"As with all landscapes," Orff said, "the best is yet to come."
Capital campaign co-chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens — who also serve as AMFA’s building committee chair and foundation board chair, respectively — announced the names of eight galleries encompassing nearly 20,000 square feet, each honoring key contributors to the museum’s history.
The galleries include: the Fine Arts Club New Media Gallery, Berta and John Baird Gallery, Governor Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery, Jeannette Edris Rockefeller Gallery, Townsend Wolfe Gallery, Jackson T. Stephens Gallery, Little Rock Gallery and the Harriet and Warren Stephens Family Gallery.
The galleries will debut at Saturday's grand opening, as well as AMFA's inaugural exhibition "Together," which Ramirez describes as capturing "who we are as a museum and who we aspire to be." The exhibit showcases "kaleidoscopic arrangements of family, friends, community and our connection to the natural world," and will be on display through Sept. 10.
On Saturday, visitors will also get a first look at the new Windgate Art School classrooms, browse the museum store stocked with local and featured artists and check out the redesigned 350-seat Performing Arts Theater before "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" takes the stage next month. Plans for the theater include more programming for all ages, including with partner companies-in-residence Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Cinema Society.
The museum's new, 2,800-square-foot full-service restaurant Park Grill will open May 4.
Editor's note: AMFA has since announced the restaurant seats approximately 100 guests with outdoor dining options and a private dining room. Patrick Herron (former executive chef for the Governor’s Mansion) will serve as executive chef of Park Grill with Altus H. Buttry as executive sous chef, David Sumpter as director of food and beverage and Jeffery Williams as general manager. A menu and reservations are available now on the Park Grill website.
Saturday's sold-out event also includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony, food, music and live performances in MacArthur Park from noon - 8 p.m. The following week includes more ticketed events before AMFA opens to the public on Tuesday, May 2. Regular operating hours will be 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon - 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Catch up on some of the latest from AMFA:
- AMFA Releases Grand Opening Celebration Plans
- AMFA Announces Inaugural Programs, Artist Talks and Art Classes
- AMFA Announces Partnerships With Ballet Arkansas and Arkansas Cinema Society
- A Finer Point: Victoria Ramirez & the AMFA Dream Team
- AMFA Announces Community Art Installation to Celebrate Reopening
- Drawing Interest With Catherine Walworth
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