Have you been to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas? If not, you’re missing out on a local treasure.
Beautiful inside and out
A spectacular jewel in Pine Bluff's crown
Best kept secret in Pine Bluff
These are just a few of the positive phrases Google reviewers used when describing their experience at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (ASC). If you haven’t seen this cultural gem nestled in the heart of downtown Pine Bluff, it’s time you did.
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the ASC is a cultural junction where the arts and sciences collide in a spectacular way to engage, educate, and entertain. The ASC is the hub for fine arts, performing arts, arts and science classes, and hands-on children’s science exhibits for the ten-county area of southeastern Arkansas. Its mission is to provide opportunities for the practice, teaching, performance, enjoyment and understanding of the arts and sciences.
How does the ASC fulfill this mission? One look at its rich and varied schedule will give you your first clue. ASC presents programming exhibits, performances, classes, and local partnerships. Education programming occurs on and off site and area schools are encouraged to visit for free exhibition tours and hands-on activities. Classes are offered for children, youth, and adults with scholarships available. Gallery admission, hands-on programming, and school field trips are all free—thanks to sponsors, successful grant writing, and the generosity of the local community.
How did the ASC come to be? The story starts on March 4, 1968 when two local community arts groups merged by ordinance of the Pine Bluff City Council and assumed the name of Civic Center Arts Museum. Soon afterward, the center grew to include performing arts, science exhibits, and educational programming, broadening its reach to the ten-county region of southeast Arkansas. In 1969, Pine Bluff city council changed the name to Southeast Arkansas Arts & Science Center. In 1971, the center became a commission of the City of Pine Bluff, and in 1987, the center’s name was changed to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
From 1968 to 1986, the center operated out of the Pine Bluff Civic Center with an art gallery, a science education junior gallery, a permanent collection gallery, a 192-seat theater, and administrative offices. A satellite building—a former fire station—designated for education classes was lent to the center by the city. In 1986, fire heavily damaged the Civic Center facility. Although the theater was eventually restored, the galleries, offices, and collections were moved to a historic home on Martin Street. The old fire station, known as the Little Firehouse Studio, continued as a classroom and student gallery. Due to this geographic separation, the need arose to have a facility that would house all programs under one roof. In anticipation of a building project, the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas Endowment Fund, Inc., was established in 1986. In 1994, following a successful fundraising campaign, the current facility was built at 701 Main Street in downtown Pine Bluff. The 22,000-square-foot facility was built to AAM accreditation standards. The building includes four galleries, a 232-seat theater, classroom space, administrative offices, a vault, and adequate preparatory and conservation space for the center’s programming efforts.
The center offers several children’s science exhibits on a rotating basis. Exhibits have included Illusion Confusion, Good Vibrations, and Grossology. Year-round science classes are also available. As part of its commitment to providing quality children’s science exhibits, the center is a member of a seven-museum consortium in Arkansas, the Arkansas Discovery Network.
Besides exhibiting well-known local, state, regional, national, and international artists, the center offers year-round art classes in sculpture, mixed media, and more. Exhibits have included the work of Frederic Remington and Norman Rockwell, as well as a collection of art and artifacts from western Africa ranging from the fifth century to the late twentieth century. The center, as part of its mission, also regularly exhibits works from artists throughout Arkansas and the Delta region. The center’s permanent collection addresses a regional constituency and places emphasis on collecting works by African American artists, Arkansas artists, and artists living and working in the South.
The center hosts regular music events that showcase the music of Arkansas musicians and feature the Delta sounds of jazz, blues, soul, rock, and country. The center also hosts community theater productions of both nationally famous works and conducts theater classes and camps for adults and children.
In 2018, the Windgate Foundation awarded ASC with a $2.5 million grant to expand ASC's footprint and transform historic commercial space on Main Street into a vibrant community arts and event space. The ARTSpace on Main, located at 623 S. Main Street, with a little more than 11,000 square feet, features a community gallery for area artists to show and sell work; flexible workshop space for art classes, yoga classes, dance and culinary workshops, a tinkering makerspace, a wood shop, scene and costume shop, a small pottery studio and an outside "ART Yard" for large-scale projects and events. The ARTSpace on Main includes some of the original features of the 1920s commercial building, including an advertising mural inside for O.K. Dairy Creamery.
The ARTworks on Main, located between The ARTSpace and ASC's main building, includes five apartments for resident artists with accompanying studios that can be used by the residents or rented to local artists. The jewel of The ARTworks is a 70-seat black box theater for small, community-oriented productions. It will be named in honor of longtime ASC supporter and board member Adam B. Robinson, Jr.
If you’re looking for a place to be engaged, enthralled, and educated all at the same time, you can’t go wrong at the ASC. We're looking forward to seeing you soon!
Sources: ASC701.org, EncyclopediaofArkansas.net