Building Starts on Arkansas Arts Center, Gets $3M From Heir

Mon October 12, 2020 - Southeast Edition
Arkansas Business

An aerial architectural rendering of the Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts under construction at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. (WER Architects/Pfeifer/H&N Architects rendering)
An aerial architectural rendering of the Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts under construction at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. (WER Architects/Pfeifer/H&N Architects rendering)



The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway on Oct. 9 announced a new $3 million donation from the Alice L. Walton Foundation as it broke ground on its new 100,000-sq.-ft., $45 million Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts.

Of the $3 million, one-third will go toward construction of the center. Another $1 million will establish an endowment for ongoing facility maintenance, and the rest will support arts education programming at UCA.

Representatives with the foundation did not attend the groundbreaking due to COVID-19 restrictions, but UCA President Houston Davis read the following statement on their behalf:

"The Alice L. Walton Foundation is delighted to join the University of Central Arkansas, Windgate Foundation and other project partners in strengthening access to high quality arts education for students and future leaders. These expanded and modernized facilities in the heart of central Arkansas will foster collaboration and expression essential to preserving our dynamic and vibrant arts and cultural community."

The foundation is led by Walmart heir Alice Walton, who founded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Momentary, both in Bentonville, Ark. The philanthropic organization seeks to increase access to the arts, improve education, enhance health and advance economic opportunity.

In January 2019, the Windgate Foundation gave the university $20 million — the largest such gift in the school's 113 years — for the fine arts center.

Davis said the open-concept building will include a creative quad and sculpture garden, a gallery, a 175-seat black box theater and a 450-seat concert hall, which will be the only one-room open concept venue in central Arkansas. The center will feature "much needed" classroom, studio, performance, rehearsal and design spaces, he added.

The center will be at the corner of Donaghey Avenue and Bruce Street and is set to open in Fall 2022. Little Rock-based Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. is the project's general contractor. The architects are WER Architects of Little Rock and Pfeiffer Partners in New York.

Davis said the Windgate donation "trumpeted the quality of our faculty, our programs, our students and our alumni to the world but raised the bar for our institution and provided a pathway that led us to this great event."

Windgate Foundation representatives did not attend due to the pandemic, but Davis read a statement from foundation Executive Director Patricia Forgy:

"I know that participation in and exposure to art is crucial to a student's development. It can improve cognitive ability, critical thinking, concentration and teamwork. A student can explore, learn, and fail, try again and gain confidence. In the real world, a student who has participated in art brings highly sought-after expertise to employers, such as creative problem solving and collaboration skills. And these things just scratch the surface of the benefits of an art-filled education.

"The center will transform the arts on campus, providing an exciting new space for exploring collaborative opportunities, not only for students but for the entire region."