For more than 100 years, the Fine Arts Club of Arkansas shaped the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 1914 to aid in the development of the arts in Arkansas, the Fine Arts Club undertook the monumental task of creating a collection and establishing a permanent art gallery. In the 1930s, the Fine Arts Club submitted a proposal to the Works Progress Administration to build a new Museum of Fine Arts in MacArthur Park. Approved by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, financed by Fine Arts Club and built with assistance from the WPA, the museum opened its doors in 1937.
The Fine Arts Club continued to raise funds in the Museum’s early years to finance acquisitions, programming and exhibitions. While Fine Arts Club volunteers made daily operations of the museum possible, board members established endowments that continue to serve the organization today. In 1960, a City of Little Rock ordinance created the Arkansas Arts Center, which was funded in part by the Fine Arts Club’s endowment. As the Arts Center continued to grow, donations from the Fine Arts Club funded everything from a jewelry studio in the Museum School to the docent program, from the Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition to the distinguished lecture series. In the Arts Center’s early years, volunteers staffed the restaurant, Vineyard in the Park, and tips from waiters purchase of artwork for the collection each year. In the 1960s, the Fine Arts Club established Little Rock’s first fundraiser, Beaux Arts Ball. Eventually renamed Tabriz, Beaux Arts Ball was reprised as an off-year fundraiser in 2014. A conservative estimate of the funds raised from these events over the years would top $10 million.
While often recognized for their service, the Fine Arts Club’s generous financial gifts were instrumental in elevating the arts in Arkansas.