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Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock, AK

Revitalizing a museum designed to prioritize space for the public

The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (AMFA) is a beloved, premier cultural institution with a renowned collection of works on paper, a museum school, and a celebrated children’s theatre program. The Museum has long been committed to creating an inclusive cultural space for the community with its robust offering of inspiring visual, performing arts, and educational experiences. 

Established in 1937, and located in Little Rock’s downtown MacArthur Park, over the years the museum grew to comprise nine buildings, resulting in a motley collection of spaces disconnected from each other and their surroundings. Studio Gang’s new design for the museum transforms the existing architecture into a connected space that links its disparate programs and creates vibrant places for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts as well as expanding spaces for performance, exhibition, and art making. The new AMFA includes key areas designed to serve multiple functions, furthering the museum’s goal to provide spaces for people as well as for art. As the acoustics, audiovisual, and theatre consultant, Arup worked with the architects and the museum to ensure these spaces could accommodate a spectrum of ever-expanding uses while supporting the high-quality arts program offerings.

The new AMFA design builds on the museum's legacy as a cultural institution that serves its community first through enhancement of its existing program facilities and creating new high quality public spaces. Its flexible design combined with its agile technology enables the museum to deliver wide-ranging programming across its inspiring spaces. Beyond its theatre, lecture hall and galleries, its spaces can adapt to support activities ranging from performances, temporary exhibitions, public and private events, courses, and lectures, to community gatherings, and areas for relaxation and contemplation. 

Altogether the design embodies the museum's commitment to its community and its environs, strengthening its cultural and educational offerings and connecting visitors to each other, art, nature, and the city.

Project Summary

133,000ft² museum

350 seatperforming arts theater

153 seatlecture hall

The transformed 133,000-square-foot AMFA creates a vibrant, connected place for social interaction, education, and appreciation for the arts — further solidifying the museum’s position as a hub for the community. The new design flows across six spaces, in addition to the galleries, to provide an array of flexible areas for a variety of uses.

Interior view of an art gallery within a museum, there are people looking at artworks. Interior view of an art gallery within a museum, there are people looking at artworks.

We’re proud to support Studio Gang and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in realizing the design vision to accommodate a vast array of arts and event program uses throughout a modern facility, enabling the entire museum to be activated as an inclusive space for the community. ” Ryan Biziorek Ryan Biziorek Associate Principal, Acoustics, Audiovisual, and Theatre Consulting

At the center of the new AMFA is a two-story atrium that traverses the museum from north to south, providing a connection to key parts of the museum and creating a light-filled space for the public. A striking second floor gathering space with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, dubbed the Cultural Living Room, overlooks an open-air courtyard on one side and the north entrance on the other. Other spaces include a multipurpose space with 18-foot-high glass walls facing a terrace, a performing arts theatre, a lecture hall, and a restaurant that opens onto historic MacArthur Park. To support a broader range of programming, from performing arts to film festivals, Arup’s team contributed acoustic, audiovisual (AV), and theatre design expertise to support the extensive renovation and upgrades. The modernized theatre includes a full cinema system with surround sound, refurbished and reconfigured the seating layout to be more inclusive and inviting, performance lighting, acoustic treatments, audiovisual systems, and theatre mechanized rigging systems as well as creating a safer on-stage environment for performers and staff.


A lounge space with a wood paneled ceiling and floor to ceiling windows A lounge space with a wood paneled ceiling and floor to ceiling windows
© Iwan Baan

It was a real pleasure to support Studio Gang and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in re-imaging how the performing arts will engage with the community using more inclusive planning, more diverse programming and the latest technologies to support a myriad of performance genres. ” Edward Arenius Edward Arenius Associate Principal

Building immersive and flexible AV systems

While the theatre, lecture hall, Cultural Living Room, and the Glass Box multipurpose space have fixed loudspeakers and video projection systems, Arup’s design enables all areas to be activated with AV via a portable cart. About the size of a mini fridge, the portable AV cart can be setup in any space and act as a stand-alone element or connect to the building AV systems to stream audio and video throughout the facility and to external viewers. This flexibility creates and endless palette of opportunities for artists, speakers, and community members to locate their stages or installations for events and performances. It also enables the museum to accommodate overflow audiences – for example, when an event in the theatre is sold out – giving the museum the opportunity to maximize revenue that supports its programming and mission. Spaceis always a premium for museums so by reducing the number of dedicated AV equipment closets the museum has increased public and gallery space. Leveraging the building network infrastructure will allow the museum to upgrade the AV technology with ease and in phases.

The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts has been a beloved community anchor since its founding, but over time its main additions had resulted in a building that was isolated from the neighborhood and park. We saw the design as an opportunity to reconnect the building with its surroundings and to adapt and reimagine the existing structures so they would welcome all visitors and support the vibrant, creative activities going on inside. ” Jeanne Gang Founding Principal and Partner of Studio Gang

Interior view of an art gallery within a museum, there are people looking at artworks. Interior view of an art gallery within a museum, there are people looking at artworks.
© Iwan Baan

Integrating space, sound, and use

In consideration of this range of uses across the museum — where occupancy might range from a dozen people to several hundred — Arup conducted extensive acoustic studies of the public spaces using 3D acoustic computer modelling. Acoustic treatments were integrated into the ceiling finish and maintain the clean white aesthetic that is continuous throughout the public space. In the atrium areas, for example, acoustic plaster and loudspeakers at bottom of the roof deck are visually obscured by a slatted wood ceiling. Throughout, Arup’s acoustic design balances the need for individual visitors to focus on the artwork and for groups to collectively share experience, depending on time and place.

In anticipation of future permutations of the spaces, Arup’s theatre team worked closely with the designers to strategically locate “strong points” behind the wood slats on the ceiling from which to temporarily hang oversized art objects, theatrical lighting, or event equipment.

The Arup team also addressed acoustics on the exterior, mitigating noise from mechanical systems for park and museum visitors and the surrounding community.