Arkansas Arts Center

Little Rock, AR

In design

Arkansas Arts Center

Civic, Cultural, Educational

127,000 sf new construction and renovation


Creating a vibrant space for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts, Studio Gang’s design for the Arkansas Arts Center transforms this premier cultural institution into a signature civic asset. 

Working from the inside out, the design—which includes both new construction and renovations—clarifies the organization of the building’s interior while also extending the AAC’s presence into historic MacArthur Park, opening the Center to the city of Little Rock and beckoning the public within.

The AAC’s eight architectural additions have resulted in a motley collection of fortress-like spaces that lack a holistic architectural identity, clear visitor circulation, and visibility to the city and the park of which the Center is a part. Suffering from inefficient operational adjacencies, the AAC’s three impressive programs—a renowned collection of works on paper, the Museum School, and the Children’s Theatre—are disconnected from each other and their surroundings, making them difficult for visitors to locate and experience. 

Conceived as a stem that blossoms to the north and south and anchored by major new visitor amenities, the design mediates between the Center’s existing architecture to define a new public gallery and gathering space that provides an unprecedented axis of connectivity linking the AAC’s disparate programs and also serves as a focal point for extensive renovations that help the Center meet its growing visitor needs.

Inviting visitors to experience anew the building’s original 1937 facade, the excavation of the existing building allows for visual clarity and transparency and reveals expanded spaces for performance, exhibition, and art making. Extensive renovations transform the museum, adding new dedicated programs that demonstrate best practices for art exhibition, conservation, and research, while the new architecture’s pleated, thin-plate structure signals a strong and reenergized visual identity.

Major new amenities anchor the architecture at both the north and south entrances. At the north end, a new Cultural Living Room acts as a flexible community space for gathering, respite, and contemplation as well as special events. To the south, an outdoor dining pavilion replaces the existing asphalt parking lot, opening the building to the park for the first time. Developed with SCAPE, the design reinforces the AAC’s ambition to become a true museum in a park, adding more than 2,200 linear feet of new paths and trails and 250 new trees, which will merge over time with the existing canopy to form a parkland forest, while the architecture’s pleats collect stormwater to feed new gardens and native perennial meadows. Altogether the design embodies the AAC’s commitment to its community and its environs, strengthening its cultural and educational offerings and connecting visitors to each other, art, nature, and the city.

Consultant Team

Polk Stanley Wilcox, associate architect

SCAPE, landscape architect

Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer

McClelland Consulting Engineers, civil engineer

dbHMS, MEP/FP and sustainability consultant

Arup, acoustics, theater, and A/V consultant

Venue Consulting, cost estimator

Ascent, project manager

Licht Kunst Licht, Lighting Designer

Nabholz Construction, Pepper Construction and Doyne Construction Co., Construction Manager & General Contractor