Study Update

In 2008, Walton Arts Center commissioned a feasibility study to look at the need for additional theater space in Northwest Arkansas. That study indicated a need for a 2,200+ seat and a 600-seat venue, in addition to our current 1,200-seat theater. In 2010, the Walton Arts Center Board decided to locate the large hall in Bentonville and the mid-sized hall in Fayetteville, close to the current theater. In April of 2011, theater planning firm Schuler Shook was hired to confirm that this building concept would meet the community needs, and to determine what it would cost to build and operate the desired facilities.

Walton Arts Center is pleased that the study indicates a definite need for the two facilities, that they would be sustainable and busy venues, and that the capacity and interest exists to build them in a unique way that benefits Walton Arts Center (WAC), the University of Arkansas (UA), and the communities of Northwest Arkansas.

The following is a summary of top-level findings in the report.

The need for a mid-sized hall in Fayetteville is confirmed.

  • A 600-700-seat hall is needed in Fayetteville, with primary usage dedicated to the UA music department.
  • WAC’s current theater (Baum Walker Hall) is beyond capacity and lack of access to space is hindering further development of programming by WAC and other community arts groups, non-profits and businesses.

Substantial renovations to the current WAC campus are critical.

  • Renovations to WAC’s public spaces are essential to keep the current facility competitive and a cornerstone for public arts and entertainment events.
  • Expanding the main lobby is critical to improve the patron experience and allow for additional activity (more concessions activity, special events, meetings, etc.).
  • Expanded backstage space for wardrobe, dressing rooms and storage is necessary to free up Starr Theater for more performances and events drawing people to the facility.
  • Improved lighting and sound equipment is essential to keep up with changing trends in the theatrical and music industries.

Need for a large hall in Bentonville confirmed.

  • A 2,000-seat theater is needed in Bentonville. While the previous study suggested 2,200+ seats, the new study recommends that 2,000 seats will meet both WAC and community needs, and be most cost effective.
  • A 200 seat education venue is recommended as part of the Bentonville campus.

Significant need exists in both Fayetteville and Bentonville for meeting and special event space.

  • New and renovated spaces should respond to this need (e.g. new theater convert to flat floor for events; renovated WAC lobby will handle large-scale dinners).
  • Special event business is a key component to sustainable operations for the facilities and for keeping the venues busy.

The UA is interested in building a mid-sized theater on the UA campus, which would allow WAC to focus on needed renovation of the existing facility in the near term.

  • Mid-way through the study, and after learning of the increasing needs of the UA music department, Chancellor David Gearhart requested that the consultants look at the feasibility of building the hall on the UA campus to better meet student/faculty needs.
  • This extended study revealed that a 600+ seat music venue could be built by renovating the Old Fieldhouse on the UA campus. This facility would better meet UA needs, and meet WAC needs by opening up space in Baum Walker Hall. In addition, the renovation project would be more cost effective than building a brand new venue.
  • The UA venue could open quickly, as soon as 2015, freeing up dates for special events and public performances at WAC.
  • With the UA desire to build the 600 seat theater, WAC can turn attention to fundraising and planning for renovations.

To view the executive summary of the report, click here.

More about the future impact of Walton Arts Center Expansion

Growing facilities, programs and services are critical to WAC’s mission of bringing great performing artists and entertainers from around the world to Northwest Arkansas, connecting and engaging people through inspiring arts experiences.

The Theater Planning Study validates WAC’s vision for the future and helps paint the broad picture of a 21st century Walton Arts Center. The renovations to the current facility, a new 600-seat hall on the UA campus, a new 2,000-seat hall and education center in Bentonville and a new 6,400-seat amphitheater (The AMP - see links at right for more information) will have significant artistic and economic impact on the entire region. The growth of WAC will position Northwest Arkansas as a major stop for the most popular touring Broadway shows, top-tier concerts and rich arts education programs. A multi-campus strategy with multi-purpose venues will serve more people from Northwest Arkansas and beyond.

Within the next decade, capacity, events and audiences at WAC venues will more than double. The cultural vibrancy and economic activity that comes from this activity will have a significant impact on Northwest Arkansas and the State.





Capacity of venues (seats)



WAC/AMP Events



People in attendance at WAC/AMP events



Elementary school students served



Ticket sales



Operating budget