Mayor to Arts Center: Don't forget LR | Rock Candy

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mayor to Arts Center: Don't forget LR

Posted By on Fri, Feb 13, 2015 at 3:52 PM

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Mayor Mark Stodola
has released a letter he mailed early Wednesday to the Arkansas Arts Center's Board of Trustees asking that Little Rock be included in any deliberations about the future of the Arts Center and reminding them of the city's dollar investment in the museum. He sent the letter prior to Arts Center Director Todd Herman's missive that included a statement from the Arts Center Foundation. Here's Stodola's letter:

Dear Arts Center Trustees—-
In light of apparently ongoing discussions concerning a possible move of the Arts Center Collection, I want to keep you all informed about the City of Little Rock's efforts. When I was told a couple of weeks ago of the discussions and polling being conducted on the north side of the river, I advised the Foundation that if such a matter is to be truly considered, the City of Little Rock would like the opportunity to respond as well.

Consequently, I have instructed the Cromwell firm, our contract architects and engineers, to determine with Arts Center staff the immediate needs which exist. As Todd and I have discussed, a museum consultant is necessary to review the use of the existing space and any additional expansion desired. He is currently investigating possible consultants who can perform this work.

The Arts Center began as the Museum of Fine Arts in its current location in MacArthur Park as a WPA project in 1935, some 80 years ago. As we all know, it has been expanded multiple times since then due to the efforts of several community capital campaigns beginning in 1958. Throughout the years the City of Little Rock has contributed over $14.6 million dollars toward it operations and recognizes the Arkansas Arts Center as one of the city's premiere cultural institutions. For example, this year the City, along with our Advertising and Promotion Commission, appropriated $600,000 towards its operation. Thus, I hope it is understandable why we would like the first opportunity to compete for the next phase of the Arkansas Arts Center's existence if a move is being considered.

Whether that means expansion in its current location or a new building in a different location in the city, I am hopeful we will be given the opportunity to respond. Thank you for your consideration.

Mark Stodola

Since he sent the letter, Stodola has remembered another $950,000 the city invested in the Arts Center in 1989. He also said he forgot to mention that the city provides health insurance for employees and building insurance.

IF the Arts Center decides that a new building is needed (which statements from Herman and the foundation suggest) and IF Little Rock can come up ante up some of the financing (as has been explored in a poll of North Little Rock residents testing the tax waters there), then where would be the best place for the new arts center?  

"I think there’s merit in it being adjacent to 300,000 people at the convention center," Stodola said dryly, and the Clinton Center and the Museum of Discovery and the Historic Arkansas Museum. (There is also the Witt Stephens Nature Center.) "It's sort of museum row," he said; "If it moves I would suggest it be built in the heart of that."

But the only large parcel of undeveloped land in "the heart" would be Riverfront Park. There is land by Heifer International, but that seems a little out of the way to feel the pulse of the Little Rock Convention Center. (A new museum on the north shore just off Main Street would be closer.) If the Highway Department could be prevailed upon to move the I-30 exit to Main Street — something urban designers would like to see anyway, to provide a "gateway" to the city — there would be two city blocks to work with. 

I'd like to hear from Arts Center users — students in the museum school, parents whose children attend the Children's Theatre, arts patrons — what their preference would be. Bigger in MacArthur Park? New in North Little Rock? 

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