UA announces $6 million gift toward new performing arts center

Chancellor G. David Gearhart speaks at a news conference Wednesday morning inside the Old Field House building on the University of Arkansas campus.

Photo: Todd Gill

The University of Arkansas Tuesday announced a major gift toward a planned performing arts center on the Fayetteville campus.

Jim and Joyce Faulkner of Little Rock have pledged $6 million to support the estimated $17 million cost to convert the university’s Old Field House building into a concert hall that would seat between 600-700 people.

Jim and Joyce Faulkner (right) receive a round of applause from those in attendance at Wednesday morning’s news conference, including Dean Robin Roberts (left) of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

Photo: Todd Gill

“Joyce and I have been involved with music and other arts as far back as our grade school years in Malvern and Benton,” said Jim Faulkner, who graduated from the UA in 1954. “In high school, we were both clarinet players in our bands. For my first couple of years in Fayetteville, I was in the Razorback Band, and that is a great memory for me…So when it was suggested that we might help in creating a new performing arts center for the university, it seemed like a good opportunity to combine our appreciation of the arts with our love for the University of Arkansas.”

The plans, which also include naming the facility after the Faulkners, must first gain formal approval from the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees, who are set to discuss the proposal at a meeting in Little Rock later this week.

Musical groups that would perform in the new facility include the University Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, Wind Symphony, Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, Schola Cantorum, Concert Choir and Master Chorale. Theatrical performances would be staged by the University Opera, Music Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre and Boars Head Summer Theatre. The facility would also host the popular Summer Chamber Music Festival as well as provide space for public lectures, such as the recent appearance by President Bill Clinton, who delivered the inaugural presentation in the Dale and Betty Bumpers Lecture Series.

The Old Field House building

Photo: Todd Gill

On-campus musical performances currently are hosted in the 238-seat Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall, now the site of more than 300 concerts annually. Theatrical productions are staged in the 250-seat University Theater.

“While our current venues have served the university well, their limited capacity is no longer sufficient,” said Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “When almost every institution of higher education and many high schools have performance venues offering more capabilities than these, it is obvious that improvement is needed if the university hopes to continue competing for top-flight fine arts students and faculty. In addition, we have submitted a proposal to the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission requesting financial support. We believe its investment in this project is consistent with the commission’s mission: to promote Fayetteville’s cultural, recreational and economic vibrancy. This project is a win-win for both the city and the university.”

Gearhart requested $1 million to be payable over a three-year period from the Fayetteville A&P Commission earlier this year, and the group is currently awaiting a written opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on whether the local tax dollars which fund the commission could be used to help build a concert hall at a state entity.

Renderings from Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects show the interior of a planned performing arts hall to be built inside the Old Field House building on the University of Arkansas campus.

Staff photo, courtesy images

“With the incredibly generous support of our close friends Jim and Joyce Faulkner, the dream of having a facility that better serves our students and faculty is coming true,” Gearhart said. “I appreciate their sincere belief in this project and their vision for better serving our campus and the state of Arkansas.”

The Faulkners are long-time supporters of the university. In 2011, they led the effort to purchase new uniforms for the Razorback Band by offering to match others’ gifts. The challenge was met and exceeded in a matter of weeks.

They have also funded Chancellor’s Scholarships in several fields of study and were involved in the restoration of Old Main, among many other contributions to the university.

The Old Field House was dedicated in February 1938 and was part of a building boom that occurred on campus in the 1930s, thanks to the federal Public Works Administration. The construction of a performing arts center will involve renovation of the interior space, and the building’s exterior will be preserved.

More photos from Wednesday’s news conference

Dean Robin Roberts, J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences

Mary Margaret Hui, graduate student