The strategies and goals that drive this strategic plan were first prioritized through a SWOT analysis guided by consultant Bill Craddock (Craddock and Associates) in 2013. Data was gathered from Arkansas Arts Center (‘AAC’) staff, AAC board, AAC Foundation, members, and community representatives through a series of retreats. A collaboration with the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas Little Rock (UALR) provided us with additional data from community sessions held throughout the city.
In 2014, consultant Deborah Frieden was hired to work with the AAC to develop a new strategic plan based on the results from the SWOT analysis and vision for the future of the institution. Further individual interviews with stakeholders and retreats with staff, community members, and AAC Board and Foundation, confirmed that the current state of the facility and long-term fiscal strength were obstacles to the growth and impact of the Arts Center in the community. It also became clear that a major building project would require intensive institutional focus for several years and that funding for the project would need to be identified and secured.
The completion of the strategic plan was put on hold while a determination was made as to the scope of such a project and whether the institution should relocate and build a new facility or renovate its current facility. With the support of the City and the community, revenue from a two-cent tax on hotel rooms was dedicated to the renovation of the Arkansas Arts Center.
Following the securing of public funding, the Board and Foundation of the AAC developed a plan for a capital campaign that would secure the remaining funds required to renovate and expand the existing facility in Historic MacArthur Park. Having successfully completed this major objective, the AAC was able to refocus and complete its strategic plan.
The Mission, Vision, Core Values, goals and strategies contained in this document reflect three years of data collection and community conversations that define the passion of the staff and supporters of the Arts Center to be a cultural and education leader in the state and a vital collaborator in civic progress for all citizens.
This strategic plan was developed at a time when the Arkansas Arts Center is at the cusp of a new and exciting chapter in its history. Through the generosity of the City of Little Rock, AAC supporters, and the voters of Little Rock, the Arkansas Arts Center successfully raised funds to embark on a significant renovation and expansion of its building. The resulting facility will allow the AAC to better serve and grow our members and audience, increase and improve our educational offerings, provide much needed storage and care for a growing collection, and create a catalyst for energizing historic MacArthur Park and downtown Little Rock.
The scope of this strategic plan covers the projected design and construction phase of the building project. Therefore, special attention is given to ‘transitional goals’ with attention also given to those strategies that will define the AAC via its new mission and vision upon re-opening.
As a means to counteract the potential to view the AAC in terms of its various arms (Museum School, Children’s Theatre, Museum, State Services program), this strategic plan is organized around six (6) essential, shared initiatives. These key initiatives advance critical, institution-wide goals that the AAC is collectively committed to achieving. Fulfilling these initiatives requires more than one idea or strategy and relies on cross-departmental support to be achieved. Success will result in ‘moving the needle’ in terms of civic involvement, arts education, and cultural significance. The ideas behind these initiatives will continue beyond the parameters of this plan and are on-going goals for the institution. It is understood that the goals described here, in order to maximize impact and achieve our vision, will require additional staff.
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Enhance the Visitor Experience
It is essential that our visitors experience the highest quality interaction with staff at all levels-- including website and onsite navigation-- and that the facility, signage, and content convey a feeling of welcome, inspiration, and engagement.
Expand Audience and Deepen Engagement
Ensure Fiscal Stability
Embrace Diversity through Deliberate Institutional Initiatives
A separate section addresses the expansion and renovation of the facility with associated goals and strategies. Some overlap may occur, however it is useful to consolidate goals separately under the umbrella of the renovation project to gain a clear picture of its impact.
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Expand and Renovate the Arts Center Facility
The physical building should be a partner in our mission of engaging and energizing the public through art, both internally and externally, and should meet museum standards for care and display of our world-class collection.
Following facilitated retreats in 2013 and 2014 with staff, stakeholders, and the public, it became clear that the state of the current facility was an obstacle to the Arts Center’s ability to fulfill its mission and vision and prepare for the future. An assessment of the facility was conducted by a local architectural firm (Cromwell and Associates) as well as a museum design firm (George Sexton and Associates).
From that data, as well as the past 5 years of staff management experience, prioritized needs and scope of project were determined that suggested the need for a substantial, facility-wide renovation including additional square footage. Ongoing discussions with stakeholders expanded to include the possibility of building a new structure and relocating to another part of the city or neighboring North Little Rock. Surveys and polling results solidified the Arts Center’s decision to invest in its current location and building as a cultural anchor and catalyst for the growth of a historic downtown Little Rock neighborhood.
Working with the city of Little Rock, a maintenance agreement was developed and ratified in 2015 that secures public funding for specified annual maintenance and capital expenses of the city-owned building. Additionally, in 2015, the City of Little Rock dedicated the majority of revenue from a two cent sales tax on hotel rooms to the renovation and expansion of the Arkansas Arts Center in historic MacArthur Park. In February of 2016, through a special election of the citizens of Little Rock, bonding of that revenue was approved at a record-setting 84%--a strong indicator of the positive impact the Arts Center has in the community.
As these transformative decisions were being made, the Strategic Planning process, which had begun in 2014, was put on hold. It was restarted in the Spring/Summer of 2016 as a key element in both shaping and defining how the building will work in tandem with our institutional goals and initiatives.
A preliminary space allocation study was conducted with the staff with a focus on immediate needs as well as a 10 – 20 year growth allocation. The resulting data was analyzed and refined with senior staff, our consultant Deborah Frieden, and benchmarking data from recent museum expansions and renovations. In addition to renovating the current square footage, a target of an additional 40,000 square feet was proposed to meet current needs and leave room for growth. A ‘to build’ budget range was set for $55M - $65M to accomplish this.
With guidance from the in-process strategic plan and the data from our facility assessments and staff in-put, we were able to formalize a list of priorities that included upgrading the mechanical systems and their monitoring, back-up generators, expansion and upgrading collection storage and prep spaces, upgrading and expansion of the Museum School, renovation of the Children’s Theatre, expanded and dedicated youth and family education and engagement areas, renovated public spaces including enhanced navigation and way-finding, and enhancing the surrounding park to encourage synergy between the Arts Center and its natural surroundings.
Our goal is to have a LEED certified building that enriches the creative and inspirational activities within, augments our institutional mission and vision, and is a catalyst for increased enjoyment and activity in historic MacArthur Park.
For ongoing updates visit arkansasartscenter.org/building.