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South Arkansas Arts Center aims to make arts more accessible with expansion, renovation project

South Arkansas nonprofit plans renovation, expansion project for cultural hub by Caitlan Butler | July 5, 2022 at 4:03 a.m.
An architectural rendering shows what the South Arkansas Arts Center's new western exterior will look like after the Reaching Higher campaign's goals are met and the facility is renovated and expanded. (Courtesy of M R Designs/Special to the News-Times)

EL DORADO -- The South Arkansas Arts Center has started its first capital campaign in more than two decades to raise funds for a major renovation and expansion.

More than a year in the making, the Reaching Higher fundraising campaign encompasses several goals for the arts center: expanding accessibility, increasing safety and security, broadening opportunities for collaboration and updating aesthetics to highlight the nonprofit's role as a cultural hub in the region.

The expansion will cost an estimated $1.9 million, $300,000 of which will be covered by the arts center's general operating funds.

The building was originally an armory, and over the years has had add-ons, said Laura Allen, executive director of the arts center.

"A lot of times people will come in and say 'I didn't know what this building was,' or 'I didn't know where you were,' because it is not a particularly welcoming building, and that's something the arts center Board of Directors has been talking about since 1964. It's not a new problem," Allen said. "We want it to look as nice and welcoming on the outside as it is on the inside."

A nonprofit, the arts center is a visual and performing arts center working to promote and to support ideas and forms of artistic expression. The arts center offers dance, theater, music, design and visual arts classes; produces plays and musicals; schedules galleries showcasing artwork by local, regional and national artists; and fosters appreciation for the arts through its educational and hands-on programming.

The building's main entrance will be reconstructed to improve accessibility and security, and a check-in station will be built at the front door to help monitor museum guests.

Classrooms and other educational spaces will be consolidated on the second floor of the facility, which will also be accessible with the addition of an elevator. A new classroom will be added upstairs, and one of the classrooms will have windows installed.

A commercial catering kitchen will also be built inside the facility, expanding the arts center's ability to host events and create new partnerships.

The new and old facets of the building will come together with the help of a new façade that will be designed to blend with the building as it currently stands and the new entrance. A balcony dedicated to board of directors member Richard Wharton will overlook the main western entrance from the second floor.

The full architectural plans for the Reaching Higher expansion are available to view at the arts center, and Allen said she welcomes anyone to come by and see them.

"I love to talk about them," she said.

The center's website is

The fundraising campaign website is

Allen said the arts center won't close during the renovation process, though they "may have to get creative with entrances." Once the fundraising and construction are done, she hopes the project has a lasting impact.

"I hope that we'll continue to maintain [the arts center's] place as a community center for the arts, and I hope it will mean we can have more classes for more students from more walks of life," Allen said.

On Thursday the Murphy Family Foundation and Murphy USA Charitable Foundation announced gifts of $300,000 each -- $600,000 altogether -- to help kick-start the campaign.

"We are excited that the South Arkansas Arts Center is embarking on this campaign to expand the amazing work they are doing in our community to further the arts," said Andrew Clyde, president of the Murphy USA Charitable Foundation, in a press release. "We know this gift will allow [the arts center] to continue to grow and encourage the community to join us in helping the South Arkansas Arts Center 'Reach Higher.'"

Additional donations leave South Arkansas Arts Center with an additional $500,000 they hope to raise from the community, Allen said.

"We need everyone. [The arts center] is a place for everyone, and we need everyone," she said. "No amount of money will make too small a difference, because everyone is going to be able to enjoy it when it's done."

Print Headline: Arts center starts fundraising drive


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