In 1914 seeds were planted for the Arkansas Arts Center, when the Fine Arts Club of Arkansas was formed. Its membership formed the core of supporters and volunteers who later contributed to the creation of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1937, in Little Rock's MacArthur Park.
In 1959, under the leadership of Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeannette Rockefeller, the museum launched a statewide capital campaign. The museum was created by an ordinance of the City of Little Rock and renamed the Arkansas Arts Center in 1961. By 1963, the museum had been enlarged to include five galleries, a 381-seat theater, four studio classrooms, sculpture courtyards, and an art library. It offered temporary art exhibitions, community theater and a school of fine and performing arts. Acquisitions were limited to regional paintings and a few prints by major artists.
Recognizing that few museums were collecting unique works on paper, the board, in 1971, selected drawings as the collection's primary concentration. The AAC acquired such works with limited resources and made a unique contribution to the field. The quality and character of exhibitions has increased accordingly.
Taking the Minneapolis Children's Theater as their model, the community theater was transformed to a children's theater. A new 3,200 square foot gallery, the Rockefeller Gallery, was built at the main facility in 1982.
Among the most recognizable works in the collection are sheets by CÚzanne, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alison Saar, Rembrandt and Rubens. The Arts Center Collection also features 135 drawings and watercolors by the post-Impressionist Paul Signac, more than 100 post-Minimalist drawings, Arthur Dove's Sketchbook "E," and nearly 80 works by Will Barnet.
The second major area of collecting is contemporary objects in craft media, including teapots by contemporary artists, contemporary baskets, turned-wood objects, studio glass, ceramics, metalwork and jewelry designed by artists. Among the highlights are works by Dale Chihuly, Albert Paley, Peter Voulkos and Dorothy Gill Barnes.