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Pilot Projects Selected for Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program

September 22, 2015
Walton Family Foundation Initiative Captures Interest of National and International Firms

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Sept. 22, 2015 – The Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program has attracted the interest of more than 75 architecture and landscape architecture firms in its inaugural year. The program promotes the highest level of design in the development of future public buildings and spaces in Benton and Washington counties.

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The three projects to be supported by the program in 2015 include a new 51,500-square-foot performance arts space for TheatreSquared in downtown Fayetteville, a 28,000-square-foot adaptive reuse building for the Rogers Historical Museum in downtown Rogers and a new 35,000-square-foot facility and half-acre playground for the Helen R. Walton Children’s Enrichment Center (HWCEC) in Bentonville.

“The pilot projects selected for 2015 exemplify the diversity and versatility that can be expected from the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program,” said Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director. “From new construction to adaptive reuse projects, particularly within our region’s downtowns, this program will help enhance our sense of place throughout the Northwest Arkansas region.”

Firms from 19 states, the District of Columbia and Canada will be evaluated to be part of the program.

“As one of the nation’s fastest-growing theatre companies, we have stretched the limits of the work we can create and the audience we can serve in our current space,” said Martin Miller, TheatreSquared executive director. “This program will help us use outstanding design concepts to build an intimate, permanent, world-class home for professional theatre in our region.”

Adaptive reuse projects, like the Rogers Historical Museum, will support quality design ideas for public spaces that complement the rich architectural history of the region.

“As we gear up efforts to revitalize our downtown, we want to preserve those qualities that make our city special,” said Rogers Mayor Greg Hines. “The Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program will give us access to talented professionals who can blend innovation with preservation of a historic building.”

Projects such as the new HWCEC facility and its playground will demonstrate the important role landscape architecture plays in a comprehensive design excellence approach.

“When we set out to build a new building, we wanted to increase the level of access to quality childcare and education programming throughout Northwest Arkansas,” said Michelle Barnes, HWCEC executive director. “Now, we will also be proud members of a vibrant design corridor anchored by our future neighbors – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Scott Family Amazeum.”

The Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program will provide financial support to entities such as school districts; county, state or local municipalities; and nonprofit organizations that intend to develop space for public purposes. Funds will be earmarked for all phases of design work.

The program is inspired by a similar enterprise in Columbus, Indiana by the Cummins Foundation.

The first pool of designers will be selected by a panel of distinguished professionals and educators.

The selection committee includes Victor Dover, principal-in-charge at Miami-based Dover, Kohl & Partners; Peter MacKeith, professor and dean of the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design; Elizabeth Meyer, professor and dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture; Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director for the Walton Family Foundation; and Cynthia Weese, founding principal of Chicago-based Weese Langley Weese Architects, Ltd.

While the program is open to professionals at local, national and international levels, it is intended to foster regional design excellence and potential cooperation between in-state and out-of-state firms. A local approach will also be used when considering sourcing of materials for the proposed designs in an effort to maintain sustainable development practices.

The program is expected to support up to three projects each year.

More information on the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program and its guiding design principles can be found at