To the south, an outdoor dining pavilion opens the building to the park. © Studio Gang and SCAPE

Building Transformation

The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is a driving force for artistic innovation – and one of the most vibrant and influential museums in the region. Now, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is leading a cultural shift.
Daytime view from downtown Little Rock of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ new north entrance. The Cultural Living Room signals the new entrance from Crescent Drive and creates a new courtyard plaza that reveals the museum’s historic façade. © Studio Gang and SCAPE

After years of ambitious planning, AMFA has launched a transformative building project to renovate, expand, and fully activate the all-new MacArthur Park campus in downtown Little Rock.

Through the creative use of light, space, and form, the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will be elevated into a work of beauty and inspiration. The new museum will be a significant architectural landmark for the region, setting a new standard for what museum buildings can accomplish.

Designed by renowned architecture practice Studio Gang, the museum’s distinctive new architectural identity signifies AMFA’s role as a leading arts institution and celebrates its legacy. The design preserves and features the building’s historic elements, and applies elegant architectural solutions to facilitate inspiring encounters with the arts. 

The building’s key feature is a pleated roof that blossoms to the north and south. Prominent glass-enclosed spaces at each entrance welcome visitors into the building, from MacArthur Park at the south and downtown Little Rock at the north. The north courtyard entrance features a nod to the past in the renewed 1937 façade of the Museum of Fine Arts. On the south side of the building, the innovative roofline creates a luminous grand atrium that showcases the progression of the space and connects the museum’s various programming areas. 

The project brings a new level of prestige to Arkansas’s architecture community. The new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ architecture has already been recognized as a leader among its peers and was honored with a Best of Design award from The Architect’s Newspaper in 2019.

Aerial view showing how the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts creates new pathways and connections to MacArthur Park. The design includes a new restaurant with outdoor shaded seating, walking paths, and a great lawn. Over time, a tree canopy will develop, creating a true “museum in a park.” © Studio Gang and SCAPE

Studio Gang’s award-winning body of work includes cultural institutions across the Americas and Europe, including the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and the Writers Theater in Glencoe, Ill. Studio Gang is led by architect Jeanne Gang, a MacArthur Fellow and a Professor in Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is Studio Gang’s first project in Arkansas. Studio Gang is working in collaboration with Little Rock-based associate architecture firm Polk Stanley Wilcox to realize the new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts. Landscape architecture firm SCAPE is designing 11 acres of MacArthur Park surrounding the Arts Center to foster a deeper connection between the park and downtown Little Rock.

Inspiration for the landscape is drawn from the region’s unique ecologies – including the banks of Fourche Creek, the bluffs of Emerald Park and the agrarian landscapes of the Mississippi Delta. SCAPE’s design for the landscape relies on sustainable, native plantings and incorporates more than 50 different species of perennials, shrubs, native trees, and ornamental grasses. Many of MacArthur Park’s mature trees are preserved in the design and incorporated into a framework of new trees, which, over time, will create a canopy throughout the park to the south and west. 

Outside the south entrance of the building, dynamic petal-shaped garden beds mirror the form of the museum’s roof and feature seasonally diverse plantings that grow between stacked slabs of sandstone quarried from the region. The stone slabs route stormwater runoff from the building’s roof into a series of rain gardens planted with native species to attract pollinators and migratory birds.

The project to reimagine the Arkansas Arts Center began in 2016 when Little Rock residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a hotel-tax bond. Through a special capital fundraising campaign, Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future, private donations to the project have now more than tripled the city of Little Rock’s $31 million commitment to the project. Lead private donors to the project include the Windgate Foundation, Harriet and Warren Stephens, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust.

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