Arts Center works to dig out from under 'Pharaohs' debt.

Money woes at the Arkansas Arts Center brought on by its exhibit "World of the Pharaohs: Treasures of Egypt revealed" are ancient history — or at least no longer news. It was April when a headline in the Democrat-Gazette declared the state's top arts institution "toppled" by a show that cost a lot of money and didn't generate a lot of revenue.

With the Arts Center's books seeing more sunshine than they have in 40 years, an examination triggered by questions following the sudden resignation of the Arts Center's director, the public now knows the Arts Center has a budget deficit of some $1.6 million. It owes its foundation, created to grow its endowment, $2.2 million. It will be in a hole for some time to come.

The Arts Center's leadership — board and interim director — is moving forward. A new deputy director of operations is working on next year's budget and a plan to pay back the foundation. The schedule of upcoming art exhibits and theater productions is firming up. Members of the board express optimism and recount expressions of support from friends anxious to put things right again.

But the financial curse of the "Pharaohs" lingers: Publicity about the Arts Center's financial affairs has harmed development, board treasurer Mary Ellen Vangilder reported at a meeting of the board in May. Clay Mercer, the development director, whose job it is to get sponsorships for exhibits, elaborated. "We promised things we did not deliver on," Mercer said, namely inflated attendance figures. "That's been publicly acknowledged and we've lost credibility."

But Lisa Baxter, who is organizing the Arkansas Center's biannual blowout fund-raiser Tabriz, said information can be a good thing for the public, "if we want them to feel ownership." With ownership comes support. The Arts Center needs the public's embrace. And the public needs the Arts Center.

The "Pharaohs" exhibit, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Arkansas's first dedicated to ancient Egypt, was supposed to lead the Arts Center out of the financial desert in which it had been wandering and create a cushion for its future.

On the eve of the opening of the Arts Center's most expensive show ever — budgeted at $1.7 million — last August, Executive Director Dr. Ellen (Nan) Plummer likened the show to a "rocket engine" that would launch the AAC to being a "bigger and better art museum."

The rocket, it was thought at one time, would be powered by an estimated $2.6 million profit from the sale of 300,000 tickets and gift shop goodies. The show, planned since 2006, had done well in Canada and Idaho, the two stops that preceded the Arts Center's. Egyptomania, as materials prepared for potential sponsors called it, would surely spread to Arkansas.

But even as she predicted that the Arts Center was on the road to greater things, Plummer, and others paying attention to the region's museum-going climate, must have been worried that the rocket might fizzle. Because of the serious financial straits people were finding themselves in, the marketing department had as early as January 2009 begun to rethink how many tickets it might sell to out-of-towners. Then in May, the Dallas Museum of Art had closed its "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" ("golden" being the operative word) with an attendance of around 620,000, far short of the 1 million it expected. Though the museum declared the show an educational success, Dallas arts writers made much of the shortfall. Golden sandals and other gilded goodies had not brought foot traffic to a big tourist city. The Arts Center had based its "Pharaohs" projections in part on the Dallas museum's expectations.


Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Say, it's sweet potato pie contest time again!

    An ingredient that shaped Little Rock's culture for years was Robert "Say" McIntosh's famous sweet potato pies. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center pays homage to Say and his pies with its annual "Say It Ain't Say's" sweet potato pie baking contest, now in its fifth year.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Leg room soon at The Root Cafe

    People who love dining at The Root Cafe but shy away because of the crowds will be happy to learn that the new dining area likely will be open by the end of next week. Corri Bristow Sundell, who owns and operates the Root Cafe with her husband, Jack Sundell, said the restaurant is waiting on the city plumbing inspector for the second bathroom the restaurant was required to install when it added three shipping container units.
    • Oct 26, 2016
  • Cheese dip champs, highest hog roasters: Here are the winners

    The city's sages in the secrets of great cheese dip and whole hog roasting showed off last weekend, at the 6th annual World Cheese Dip Championship, held last Saturday, Oct. 22, at the River Market pavilions, and the 4th annual Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast on Sunday, Oct. 23.
    • Oct 26, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • The two faces of Mike Huckabee

    Medicaid expander, Obamacare opponent. Man from Hope, mansion in Florida. Child health proponent, Duggar apologist.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Separate and unequal

    Sue Cowan Morris won the battle to equalize pay of black and white teachers. It cost her her job.
    • Jun 11, 2015

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Cover Stories

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation