The Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock has selected Studio Gang of Chicago and New York City as the architect for its planned expansion and renovation, estimated to cost $46 million.
The Arts Center chose Studio Gang, over four other finalists announced in November, based on its grasp of the structural challenges of the 53-year-old facility in its current state and “its vision for the center as a cultural beacon for central Arkansas,” as well as its “elegant and smart approach to architecture,” its strong track-record in urban planning and its commitment to environmental sustainability within the design process, according to an Arts Center press release.
Studio Gang, founded by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, was named 2016 Firm of the Year by Architizer A+, and Gang received the award for 2016 Architect of the Year by the Architectural Review and the 2013 National Design Award, according the press release.
The firm’s experience in designing art spaces includes the Aqua Tower in Chicago and the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
“Designing a re-envisioned Arkansas Arts Center is a truly exciting commission,” Gang said, according to the release. “Its extraordinary collection, historic MacArthur Park setting and rich mix of programs present a unique opportunity to redefine how the arts can strengthen local communities and surrounding regions.
“We look forward to working closely with the AAC to discover how architecture can enhance the Center’s important civic and cultural mission by creating new connections between people and the arts in Little Rock and beyond,” she said.
The Arts Center plans to add 40,000 square feet of space during the remodel, and the $46 million estimated cost includes the price of new construction, renovations and 35,000 square feet of landscaping, according to the Request for Qualifications on the design project.
“This project is about more than just addressing the physical issues of the current building. It requires rethinking how the AAC fits into the downtown fabric,” Executive Director Todd Herman said in the press release. “How can we best serve the community, and how do the AAC and MacArthur Park connect to other social and cultural nodes in downtown Little Rock? We want to do more than build. We want to transform the cultural experience.”
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola agreed, also pointing to broader implications on the economy.
“When the Arkansas Arts Center project is completed, it will not just be a renovated facility, it will be a re-envisioned experience,” Mayor Stodola said in the release. “The enhanced building will offer opportunities for an even higher level of exhibits, classes, children’s theater productions and special events, making the Arkansas Arts Center not only a signature tourist attraction, but an even more important cultural anchor for the arts community in Little Rock.
“It is well known that businesses looking to locate or expand look at a city’s quality of life offerings,” Stodola said. “An enhanced Arkansas Arts Center will be a showcase which will enable us to attract and retain quality job creators in a variety of sectors.”
Design work is planned to begin in January, and a local architect will be chosen to collaborate with Studio Gang on the project.
NARROWING IT DOWN
The Arts Center’s history stems back to 1937, when it was founded as the Museum of Fine Arts, according to its website. The current facility and the Arkansas Arts Center – conceived through a partnership among the Museum of Fine Arts, the Fine Arts Club, and the Junior League of Little Rock – opened in 1963.
Little Rock residents voted in February to help fund the renovation, along with renovations to MacArthur Park and the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, through revenue from a 2% lodging tax.
A silent-phase capital campaign is underway to raise the rest of the money for the project, according to the Arts Center.
Studio Gang was announced as the architect by a selection committee during a public meeting on Dec. 6.
“We had a number of highly qualified firms respond to our RFQ, and narrowing this impressive group down to the five finalists was extremely difficult,” Herman said in the press release. “All five finalists were incredibly talented with international reputations and credentials. We were in a great position to choose from such an impressive pool of talent.”
The other finalists were Allied Works of Portland, Ore., and New York; Shigeru Ban of New York, Paris and Tokyo, Japan; Thomas Phifer of New York; and Snohetta of Oslo, Norway, New York and San Francisco.
Selection committe members included Herman, Arts Center Board of Trustees Chair Mary Ellen Irons; board members Isabel Anthony, Van Tilbury and Chucki Bradbury; and Arts Center Foundation Chair Bobby Tucker, in addition to Little Rock City Director Dean Kumpuris, Director of Little Rock Parks and Recreation Truman Tolefree, small business development official Chauncey Holloman, and past director of the Central Arkansas Library System, Bobby Roberts, according to the press release.
A technical review panel was responsible for reviewing proposals and recommending finalists to the selection committee. The panel included Herman; the Arts Center Chief Curator Brian Lang; Ken Sims, architect; Peter MacKeith, dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; Arts Center Buildings and Grounds Committee Chair Kaki Hockersmith; and international museum consultant Deborah Frieden, according to the press release.