Gifts help pay off costs for UA School of Art construction


Three construction projects adding new or renovated buildings to the University of Arkansas School of Art will cost a combined $127 million, according to university estimates, with the largest project set for completion this October.

Unprecedented gifts for arts education first announced in 2017 are providing major support for two additions to a new arts district a few blocks from the main campus and an effort to restore UA’s Fine Arts Center building.

The Little Rock-based Windgate Foundation has pledged $70 million in separate grants for arts facilities at UA, while a portion of a $120 million grant from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation will go toward renovating the Fine Arts Center, built in 1951.

Most of the Walton grant is paying for faculty and program additions as well as student scholarship support. Family members of Walmart founder Sam Walton started the foundation, which has provided hundreds of millions in support to UA over the years.

First to be completed will be the Windgate Studio and Design Center — a 155,060-square-foot, four-level building — at an estimated cost of $55 million, UA spokesman John Thomas said.

The structure at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Hill Avenue will house the university’s studio art and graphic design programs. It’s been described by UA as tripling the amount of classroom and art work space for the campus.

The design also incorporates courtyard space and an amphitheater, according to UA’s website.

While the university back in 2020 announced a planned completion date for this summer, the building is not expected to be finished in time for the start of UA’s fall semester.

The expected October completion for the project means that “move in will occur over winter break and the first classes are set for spring 2023,” Thomas said in an email.

The project’s architects are Minneapolis-based HGA and Fort Smith-based MAHG Architecture, with Little Rock-based Clark Contractors as the construction manager.

UA officials have said most of the project cost is being paid for by a $40 million grant from the Windgate Foundation announced in 2017. It is considered the foundation’s largest-ever single grant, though millions in support have been given for other arts-related projects in Arkansas and elsewhere.

Thomas said that of the $55 million project cost, $15 million is coming from university reserve funds.

The university in August of last year announced a $30 million Windgate grant contingent on UA raising $7 million in matching donations, with this grant money going towards what UA is calling “Phase II” of the arts district.

As part of this “Phase II,” plans were announced for a new 58,000-square-foot “Windgate Gallery and Foundations Building” to be built near the Windgate Studio and Design Center.

Thomas said UA has raised $7 million, with a goal to raise $15 million. He said the official name of the gallery building has yet to be decided.

The University of Arkansas board of trustees this past November approved as designers of the estimated $34 million gallery building the firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien, the architects designing the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park. The center commemorating former President Barack Obama is expected to open in 2025.

The New York-based architects will work with Polk Stanley Wilcox, an architecture firm with offices in Fayetteville and Little Rock.

“The current design is still a work in progress,” Thomas said in an email.

An estimated $38 million project to restore UA’s Fine Arts Center is expected to begin in December, Thomas said.

The structure was designed by Edward Durrell Stone, a Fayetteville native whose work included designing the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both the building and landscaping are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

New York-based Deborah Berke Partners, with Fayetteville-based Miller Boskus Lack, are working on the renovation, which the university has described as involving a restoration of the building’s lobby to serve as a “pre-event space” for the building’s concert hall and theater.

The university’s Department of Music and Department of Theater, along with the UA School of Art, make use of the building.

In 2017, a UA official said that $10 million of the announced the $120 million Walton grant was expected to go towards the Fine Arts Center renovation.

Thomas said in an email that of the project’s total $38 million cost, a bond issue will provide $10 million towards the project, and another $2 million “will be paid in cash.”


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