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City of the arts

Updated: Jan 10

For those of us who live in Little Rock, it’s easy to point out the problems. There are:

  • The record murder rate.

  • The large number of people who blatantly ignore traffic laws with virtually no enforcement from the chronically understaffed Little Rock Police Department.

  • Aggressive panhandling that discourages people from going downtown.

  • The graffiti epidemic that has scarred the city.

  • The trash along roadways that isn’t picked up and the grass that isn’t mowed.

Want to feel better? Take a look at the major investments being made in the arts here in the capital city. To wit:

  • The spectacular new Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, which is the subject of my column on the Voices page of today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. AMFA has raised more than $150 million for that project.

  • The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Stella Boyle Smith Music Center. The 20,000-square-foot facility will be between the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer International campus. Earlier this year, ASO announced that the late Lee Ronnel left the largest individual gift in the organization’s 56-year history. The amount wasn’t disclosed, but it will allow development of the E. Lee Ronnel Music Academy. The academy will expand ASO’s capacity to serve children and adults through youth orchestras, strings classes, summer strings camps, children’s choirs and more.

  • The $71 million renovation of downtown’s Robinson Center, which occurred from 2014-16.

  • The Artspace Windgate campus in the emerging East Village part of downtown. Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects announced last fall that it has partnered with the Windgate Foundation to build a mixed-use project for the arts. The four-story, 94,000-square-foot development will have 60 live-work units for artists. Artists and their families will be actively recruited to the state. Completion of the $36 million project is projected for the fall of 2024.

This adds up to more than $250 million in capital investment for the arts in just one part of the city. That’s impressive for a city of 200,000 people.

The huge amount of money being spent on the arts is among the factors leading to renewed interest in downtown Little Rock. Other factors include:

  • The nascent recovery of Capitol Avenue. There are new owners for Regions Center and the former Bank of America Plaza. There’s also a committee appointed by the mayor charged with spurring a revival of that corridor.

  • Plans by Lyon College to open dental and veterinary schools in the Heifer International building.

  • The planned bridge park over Interstate 30 and a nearby urban greenspace that’s being opened up by the 30 Crossing project.

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