The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra revealed Wednesday morning plans for a new 20,000- SF music center for development in Little Rock’s East Village. The new $9-million Stella Boyle Smith Music Center will help expand ASO’s capacity to serve Arkansas children through education programming and provide residents with extensive musical offerings. The formal announcement follows years of private fundraising and marks the launch of a public fundraising campaign to help complete it.
The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 56th full season in 2021-2022. ASO performs more than sixty concerts each year for more than 165,000 people and serves central Arkansas through numerous community outreach programs. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra brings live symphonic music education to over 26,000 school children and over 200 schools and has education programs including the Sturgis Music Academy and the ASO Youth Ensembles Program. ASO employs 12 full-time musicians, more than 70 part-time musicians and 15 administrative staff members with an annual operating budget of $3.5 million. Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is the resident orchestra of Robinson Center Music Hall.
“Right now, hundreds of students and adults come to create, learn and perform music in a building built in 1916 as a nunnery and dining hall. Children must rehearse and practice outside, in the storage room or in offices because of the high demand for music classes and the limited space in ASO’s current facility. Yet, students from all across our state return week after week to inspire and be inspired,” said ASO CEO Christina Littlejohn. “This new community music center will allow us to meet current demand, expand music instruction offerings and allow us to provide more programming for adults of all ages to complement the concerts at Robinson Center. We are incredibly grateful for the generous support of our donors to date and through their leadership, we are ready to share the vision for this transformative project for ASO and the communities across Arkansas that we serve.”
ASO education and community music programs such as the Youth Orchestra, Music Academy, ASO Community Orchestra for adult amateurs, virtual classroom performances and other initiatives that serve people across the state, currently take place in a small, rented space which makes it difficult to be accessible to all participants. The new community music center, located between Heifer International and the Clinton Presidential Center, will include a Grand Hall for rehearsals and concerts, multiple practice spaces, music classrooms, climate-controlled instrument storage and additional flexible space.
The new Stella Boyle Smith Music Center will also have a dedicated streaming studio for access ASO programs, meaning Arkansans in nursing homes, retirement centers, libraries, schools or anywhere who are unable to come to the community music center in person will still be able to access music and educational resources through the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
The project has 58 donors to date, including $3.2-million donated by members of the ASO Board of Directors in addition to other leading gifts from the State of Arkansas. Stella Boyle Smith Trust and Simmons Bank, ASO has been able to raise $5.4-million or 60 percent of the goal to make the new Stella Boyle Smith Music Center a reality. The next phase of the project will require support directly from advocates and supporters of ASO’s mission.
“We are proud to support the construction of the Stella Boyle Smith Music Center because we know the impact it has on the lives of our youth and our communities both now and for our future,” said Chris White, executive vice president and Arkansas Community Division president of Simmons Bank and member of the ASO Board of Directors. Simmons Bank donated $500,000 toward the community music center project. “Music education not only teaches valuable life skills, but it also builds creativity, teamwork, mathematics and problem solving that prepare the youth of today to be our leaders of tomorrow. We hope other leaders, organizations and individuals passionate about lifting up our next generation can join us in supporting this effort.”
The Stella Boyle Smith Music Center was designed by Witsell Evans Rasco Architects of Little Rock.