History + Mission
The Arkansas Arts Center is an art museum with a children's theatre and a studio school. Founded in 1960, its mission is to ensure that learning, inspiration and creative expression in the arts flourish throughout Arkansas, for people of all ages and backgrounds. The AAC realizes this mission by developing, preserving and exhibiting its outstanding permanent collection, offering a rich variety of art from other collections and presenting programs for the education and cultural benefit of the public.
The seed for the Arkansas Arts Center was planted in 1914, when the Fine Arts Club of Arkansas was formed. Its membership formed the core of supporters and volunteers who later contributed to the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1937 in Little Rock's MacArthur Park. Several key decisions at critical points in the Arts Center's history helped form the remarkable arts facility that exists today.
- 1959: Under the leadership of future Governor Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeannette Rockefeller, the museum launched a statewide capital campaign. In 1960, the museum was created by ordinance of the City of Little Rock and renamed the Arkansas Arts Center. By 1963, the museum had been enlarged to include 5 galleries, a 381-seat theater, 4 studio classrooms, sculpture courtyards and an art library. It offered temporary art exhibitions, community theater and a school of fine and performing arts. Acquisitions were limited to regional paintings and a few prints by major artists.
- 1968: After a period of reduced community and economic support, Townsend Wolfe became the Director. Assessing community needs, the Board of Trustees developed a mission statement incorporating several changes. The school became a community school for children and adults, and a statewide services program was formed. The development of new and renewed financial support began. In 1971, the board selected drawings as the collection's primary concentration, recognizing that few museums were collecting unique works on paper. They believed, and rightly so, that the AAC could acquire such works with limited resources, excel in the area and make a unique contribution to the field. The quality and character of exhibitions was increased accordingly. Shortly thereafter, the community theater was transformed to a children's theater, modeled after the Minneapolis Children's Theater. The cast has performed at the Kennedy Center and the Spoleto Festival.
- 1972: The AAC Foundation Board was formed as a 501(c)3 organization to begin and hold title to the endowment (apart from the City) and to own the collection.
- 1982: Having completed an enlargement of the Museum School studios and collection storage and preparation areas in 1975, a new gallery at the main facility, the 3,200 sq. ft. Rockefeller Gallery, was built.
- 1985: With the development of a endowment and a new curatorial department, the AAC's Decorative Arts Museum (hereafter DAM) opened. This historic Greek Revival house had been bequeathed to the City for use by the AAC and was substantially renovated to serve as a gallery for the decorative arts. The DAM became the home of a growing collection of objects in craft media.
- 1989: The 1,300 sq. ft. Strauss Gallery was added to the west side of the Rockefeller Gallery, with access from the Entrance Gallery.
- 1998: Ground breaking ceremonies marked the beginning of an ambitious expansion program for construction of over 30,000 square feet of space and renovation of 12,000 square feet of existing space.
- 2000: The Grand Opening special events were held February 11 - 20, 2000. The Capital Campaign was concluded.
- 2002: The Arkansas Arts Center honored director Townsend Wolfe upon his retirement after 34 years of distinguished service.
- 2002: In the fall, the Arkansas Arts Center welcomed Dr. Ellen A. "Nan" Plummer, an art historian, educator and administrator from the Toledo Museum of Art, as the new Executive Director.
- 2003: The Decorative Arts Museum (DAM) was closed. Contemporary Craft exhibitions were moved to the Arkansas Arts Center. The AAC adopted a 3 year Strategic Plan.
- 2011: The Arkansas Arts Center named Todd Herman of Columbia, South Carolina, as its new executive director. Herman served for six years as chief curator for the Columbia Museum of Art, and is the center's third director since 1968.