The museum’s history dates back more than 100 years. In 1914, a group of intrepid women formed the Fine Arts Club with a mission to bring the arts to Arkansas.
The Fine Arts Club planted the seeds that were realized when the Museum of Fine Arts opened in downtown Little Rock’s MacArthur Park in 1937. Built by the Works Progress Administration – and featuring a stunning Art Deco façade – the Museum of Fine Arts was the first museum dedicated to the fine arts in the state of Arkansas.
In 1959, as the museum’s art collection and mission continued to grow, the Museum of Fine Arts launched a fundraising campaign to create a statewide center for the arts. Led by Winthrop Rockefeller, who would become the governor of Arkansas in 1967, the campaign emphasized that the institution would serve all of Arkansas – and encouraged Arkansas residents to get involved. Businesses and individuals from all parts of the state made donations – including children who saved nickels and dimes in jars. In 1960, the Little Rock Board of Directors adopted an ordinance officially establishing the Arkansas Arts Center, and the new building – an addition to the 1937 museum – opened in 1963.
Over the next 50 years, as the institution and its mission continued to grow in scale and in scope, the Arkansas Arts Center’s MacArthur Park building underwent seven further expansions to accommodate its growing collection and community. In a 1982 renovation and expansion, the Museum of Fine Arts’ art deco façade was preserved as a feature of the building’s interior galleries.
In 2016, Little Rock voted overwhelmingly in favor of a hotel-tax bond to reimagine the Arkansas Arts Center. With private fundraising more than tripling the public contribution to the project, a new Arkansas Arts Center, designed by renowned architecture practice Studio Gang and landscape architect SCAPE, was brought to life in MacArthur Park. With the 1937 Museum of Fine Arts façade once again revealed as the museum’s entrance, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts continues the legacy born of the Fine Arts Club and Governor Rockefeller to serve the state of Arkansas through unexpected and inspiring encounters with the arts.