Transforming Conway into an Arts, Cultural Center

Everywhere Windgate Foundation goes a particular word seems to follow: transformative.  

“I think that’s the perfect word for it,” said Amanda Horton, executive director of public appearances for the University of Central Arkansas.  

UCA received the largest gift in its history from the Windgate Foundation in 2019, a $20 million windfall to construct the Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The center, which opens this year, includes 44,000 square feet of art space, a 450-seat concert hall designed for orchestra, choir, band and ensemble performances, a black box theatre, and an exterior space for 3D art. 

“There’s no space like this on our campus,” Horton said. “It’s going to transform the educational opportunities for our students, but it’s also going to transform our community.” 

The black box theater will be the new home of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, that hosts performances for three weeks every summer. The concert hall lends itself to such performances as jazz, children’s theatrical productions, up-and-coming musicians, and lectures. Most importantly, Horton said, it will serve as a primary spot for students and faculty to present musical and theatrical performances. 

One of the opportunities the center brings is collaboration among students with various majors. There will be possibilities for interdisciplinary projects among students from majors like visual arts, theater and music. Expanding opportunities to experience arts and culture can help transform a good community into an amazing, vibrant one where people want to be, said Horton. 

“We’re going to be able to expand the arts here and offer a beautiful space for people to use,” she said. “I think the Windgate Center is going to truly serve our entire community. Conway is becoming a leader in providing arts opportunities and a destination for cultural events.” 

An additional benefit of the Windgate Center, Horton said, is its ability to complement the Reynolds Performance Hall. 

“Even though Reynolds and Windgate are centered around performing arts and culture, their spaces are very different,” she said. “Reynolds is a 1,200-seat venue designed to present national and international touring artists, whereas Windgate’s largest space is a concert hall, specifically made for musical events.” 

Reynolds will have a greater opportunity to bring in more national and international shows with other performances due to move to Windgate where they are better suited, Horton said.  

“Reynolds has hosted a lot of bands, choir concerts, small ensemble concerts and many other performances that are perfect for a space like Windgate,” Horton said. “This allows Reynolds to bring in more touring shows that we haven’t been able to do because our calendar has been tied up with events tied specifically to UCA." 

Windgate will become the home for several university bands, choir concerts and ensembles that were previously held at Reynolds. 

“We have a lot of events that are better suited for spaces Windgate offers,” Horton said. “Having the right size venue for a performance or artist adds to the excitement. It can create an electricity and excitement in the room.” 

In addition to transforming opportunities available to UCA students, Horton sees this as another accomplishment for arts, culture and entertainment in Conway. 

“It is going to impact the cultural and economic needs of our region by graduating students who are going to be collaborating with each other,” she said. “We’re going to be able to provide this amazing opportunity for our students who are going to go out into our region and benefit our communities. It is going to transform the educational opportunities our students have.” 

Taking The Helm 

Horton has served as director of the Reynolds Performance Hall since 2015. Last year, she was named executive director of public appearances at UCA, which brought the Windgate Center under her direction, in addition to Reynolds.  

“UCA is fortunate to have a leader in the arts community like Amanda who has the knowledge and experience to showcase the magnificence of the Windgate Center and all that it has to offer to patrons here in central Arkansas and the entire state,” said UCA President Houston Davis. 

Tom Williams, dean of the UCA College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said Horton brings unparalleled experience and effort to the role. 

“And with Windgate already architecturally one-of-a-kind, be assured Amanda’s programming will make it, even more, the envy of the state and beyond,” he said.