Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts executive director Dr. Victoria Ramirez is ready to wear a new hat. With renovation of the new museum in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park complete, Ramirez and her team are prepared to run an arts center instead of a construction site.
“Well, we were all ready to put our hard hats down. I will say that. We were ready to start to be museum professionals. For me, I feel like I’m back home. I’ve worked in museums my entire career, and I feel like we are finally focusing more intently on our mission-based work, which is serving the community and bringing exceptional visual and performing arts experiences to this community,” Ramirez said on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. “We’re planning our programming and next exhibitions for the end of 2023. We’re looking at 2024. And as we keep saying to people, the best is yet to come because we’ve got a lot more to share in the future. So it feels good to be a museum employee again.”
The architecture of the new building is as much a piece of art as the collections it houses. Designed by world-renowned architect Jeanne Gang of Chicago-based Studio Gang, the 133,000 sq. ft. museum has a new north and south entrance, with the north entrance restoring an original art deco façade from the 1937 Museum of Fine Arts building that had been hidden for decades.
A curving architectural “spine” – resembling a flower stem – runs through the building connecting the two portals of entry, a big departure from the old museum that was constructed in piecemeal fashion over the years and lacked cohesion to bring parts of the museum’s mission together.
There are eight new galleries that feature world-class art from private collections and the museum’s permanent collections. The entire AMFA Foundation Collection totals 14,000 works.
In addition to the galleries, there is much needed storage space to secure and preserve the art collection; new studio space for art classes; a renovated theater for children’s performances; an upscale restaurant and bar that opens up to the natural surroundings of MacArthur Park; an 11-acre landscaping makeover created by SCAPE, a nationally-famous landscape architecture firm; a research center and lecture hall; and stunning open spaces filled with light and seating for community gatherings or thoughtful musing on the art on display.
Ramirez said there’s nothing she would change about the new facilities and she still can’t stop gushing praise on everyone who helped created the new space, which is garnering national and international praise.
“Working on this project was such a privilege, and it took hundreds of people to make this building a reality. Not only did we have the architects who were amazing problem-solvers and really came up with the overall concept for the building, but working with the contractors, the subcontractors,” she said. “Over 50 Arkansas companies helped build this building. And then all of the experts that we had – staff, a building committee, we had other contractors and consultants that we brought on board. You know, at one point we said to ourselves, ‘We’re going to do this once, let’s do it right.’ And I have to say, our stakeholders, our leadership, we all feel like we did it right.”
The building will look a little different on the inside from its opening phase as the museum plans its upcoming rotating art showcases and programming. That schedule has not been revealed yet, but Ramirez said the preparation has been exciting and full of purpose and intentionality.
“It has to appeal to people. It has to bring in new audiences and expand your reach. And then an exhibition also has to challenge people in some ways. Years ago, we used to joke that if every exhibition had the word ‘Monet’ or ‘Picasso’ in it, we would always have a hit. But the truth is, you can’t always focus on the same things. You want to bring something new,” she said.
Ramirez revealed in the interview that admission at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will be free – a benefit of the highly successful capital fundraising campaign led by Warren and Harriet Stephens. You can watch her full interview in the video below.