story and photos by Brittany Ransom
Fort Smith welcomed its new Regional Art Museum (RAM) with open arms on Saturday evening (Jan. 19) as the organization celebrated its grand opening with an inaugural gala.
More than 400 guests attended the black-tie affair, which sold-out prior to the day of the event. Gala-goers were given their first look at the museum, as well as of its debut exhibit, Secrets of the Mona Lisa.
The internationally acclaimed exhibit features the findings of French scientific engineer and art expert, Pascal Cotte, who conducted a scientific analysis of the world’s most famous painting, Mona Lisa.
Granted unprecedented access to the piece by the French government and the Louvre Museum, Cotte used his invention, a multi-spectral high-definition camera, to analyze each pigment and showcase the colors and details of the original artwork. In doing so, Cotte uncovered “secrets” about the painting and revealed never before seen details about Da Vinci’s most famous lady.
The exhibition also includes original archives memorabilia, as well as large-scale reproductions of the image that highlight Pascal’s findings.
Inspired by the painting’s origins, the theme for the gala was sixteenth century Italy, but with a modern twist. Guests were treated to gourmet Italian cuisine, decadent desserts and specially created cocktails, including the “Mona Lisa Smiles Martini.”
Unique entertainment was also featured throughout the evening. Jugglers from Fayetteville’s Institute of Jugglology wowed the crowds with creative stunts while members of the Quixotic dance team posed and danced using light displays. A caricature artist was on-hand in the main gallery to sketch guests’ images.
An exclusive VIP Lounge was set up in the museum’s lower level. Harpist Holley Dickinson and Pianist JD Chitwood performed for the VIPs. In the tented staging area, Jonathan Karrant played a musical set, following a special juggling and aerial show.
Lee Ortega, RAM executive director, took a few minutes to thank guests for showing their support of the organization. Calling the project an “ambitious” endeavor, she bragged that the museum was “a victory for Fort Smith.”
“This will help bring our special community even more into the spotlight,” said Ortega. “I encourage everyone to begin making memories with your family and friends by coming out and enjoying all that RAM has to offer.”
Ortega was followed by RAM Board President Marta Jones, who echoed the director’s words of gratitude and provided the background story for how the art center involved into RAM.
The journey to RAM’s official opening took many years. Fort Smith’s original art organization was formed in 1948 under the Arkansas Association of University Women. In 1951, the group began holding classes throughout the city and, in 1960, the Associated Artists of Fort Smith purchased the historic Vaughn-Schaap House where the Fort Smith Art Center was housed for more than five decades.
The transition to an art museum officially began in 2009, when Arvest donated a former Superior Bank property to the art center. This gift jumpstarted a $3 million capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to complete the center’s move and the building’s transformation. In 2011, renovations began on the 16,000 square foot structure and plans to create a nationally recognized museum were in full swing.
Located at 1601 Rogers Ave. near historic downtown Fort Smith, the new, state-of-the-art facility was designed by award-winning architects, Polk, Stanley Wilcox. The building is climate controlled and equipped with the most modern equipment needed to preserve and display exhibitions of the highest caliber.
In addition to bringing nationally and internationally renowned exhibits to Fort Smith, RAM will provide its visitors with unique art and cultural opportunities. The museum plans to host guest lecturers, show independent films and sponsor classes for artists of all ages. Special events including galas, wine tastings and concerts will also be held for both members and non-members.
Selections from RAM’s permanent collection were on display in the museum’s upper level, including portraiture from local and regional artists. Works by Fort Smith Public School art students were also on view in the lower level programming gallery.
“We thought it appropriate to open with works from our permanent collection, as RAM will strive to support our local and regional artists,” said Ortega.
The Secrets of the Mona Lisa exhibition will be on view at RAM through March 17. The museum will officially open to the public on Sunday (Jan. 20). RAM is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m.