FORT SMITH — Besides serving as a platform for featuring local artists and traveling exhibits, a large part of the new Fort Smith Regional Art Museum’s mission is to serve the community, says Lee Ortega, RAM executive director.
Ortega gave a lecture, “Art for Art’s Sake,” Wednesday at the Echols Building on the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith campus. Admission was $10.
The new museum is set to open Jan. 19 in a two-story building that was formerly an Arvest Bank at 1601 Rogers Ave. The structure will feature two 5,000-square-foot rooms — one on each story — with temporary walls that will be reconfigured roughly every three months.
Ortega says she is trying to find out what the community wants from its regional museum by gathering information from social media and surveys. Some have said they want to see famous works here in town so they don’t have to drive several hours, while others want to see local artwork.
The building also has a basement that can be used for filming or displaying artwork, if needed, she says.
The outside landscape of the building will echo the mid-century design of the building itself, Ortega says. The structure will be topped with a box featuring the letters “ram” (in all lowercase letters) in the bottom right-hand corner. The box will be lit at night. Several signs around the outside of the museum will display RAM’s full name.
A sculpture garden will display outside art with the ability to rotate works.
“I have learned a lot about museum construction, and I am grateful for the opportunity,” says Ortega. From security to construction experts, museum officials have a solid team working on this building. Two items of extreme importance — security and climate control.
The entrance has also been improved. Sparks Health System gave a large donation, which will be recognized by the Sparks Patio, a fenced area next to the entrance. Instead of the former “cave-like” entrance, the walkway leading up to it will covered to make it look more welcoming, Ortega adds.
While RAM does plan to feature local artists at an annual juried invitational, officials have ensure the facility is up to standards for importing artwork. The American Association of Museums, which governs facilities that handle traveling, temporary exhibits and the facilities that house then, has strict policies regarding the curators who handle art and how it is loaded and unloaded, among other things.
To get the community more involved, a family day will be held once a month with free admission. There will also be workshops for seniors. Ortega says the museum tries to be admission low, and this is where sponsors and donors help out. A White Party fundraiser is planned for 7-10 p.m. Friday May 18 at the home of Kenny King, the retired fast-food mogul associated with K-Mac Enterprises. Cost is $150 per person.
RAM has already established the framework for exhibitions for the next three years since some traveling art requires at least a year notice. The art center-turned-museum that originated in the 1940s and found a home in the 1960s will finally get the home it deserves in 2013.
With a permanent collection of just under 200 pieces, the museum has a great start and is getting ready for a big opening.