Admission to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville will be free for all visitors thanks to a $20 million grant from Walmart.
The museum, scheduled to open on Nov. 11, announced the much-anticipated news at a press conference Thursday. The grant will be given over a period of five years. It is the first gift dedicated to the museum’s newly created Next Generation Fund, which addresses the economic, social and cultural barriers that often prevent diverse audiences from participating in the arts.
“We have a deep connection to northwest Arkansas, of course. Our roots are here,” said Mike Duke, president and CEO of Walmart. “We have more than 10,000 associates and their families that live, work, and play here. We are excited about the cultural opportunities Crystal Bridges is bringing to our area and even more excited that our families, friends and neighbors will experience it at no cost.”
Don Bacigalupi, Crystal Bridges executive director, said admission charges to museums across the country are rising to sometimes insurmountable levels, $25 per person for example, which really bars many community members from participating. “Walmart has shown extraordinary vision and foresight in creating access to this museum, and providing all that Crystal Bridges has to offer to all people at no cost and for the lifetime of the museum. And as a result, this gift will allow the museum, I believe, to become a daily and vital resource in the lives of all our community members.”
Bacigalupi added that the gift is truly an expression of Walmart’s mission, which Duke said is to provide goods at affordable prices, save people money, and help people live better lives. “We believe art is part of living better,” he said. “We want to create accessibility for all. This ensures everyone has access to this beautiful facility.”
First Lady Ginger Beebe, well-known for the advocacy of arts in Arkansas, said the stunning complex will house a collection of the greatest American art the world has ever seen, and that it will be a magnate to not only Arkansans, but people around the globe.
“They will discover other wonderful places in The Natural State,” she said. “They will find amazing things here in Arkansas, its natural beauty, its vibrant communities, its warm and welcoming people. The benefit to tourism will be tremendous from the added exposure Crystal Bridges brings.”
Beebe said she was particularly thankful for Walmart’s generosity allowing for free admission.
“Great art can open so many doors, exposing us to perspectives that we’ve never considered until we step in front of that picture, that piece of art, that sculpture or that photograph, “ she added. “ It exposes us to something that many of us have never had the experience of. Art broadens our world view. It brings people together of all different cultures and all different backgrounds. It’s a powerful tool through which we can learn more about the world and more about ourselves.”
Beebe added that art is essential to every child’s education, is critically important to a child’s developing brain, and can enhance math skills and logical thinking. “These galleries will soon be filled with school children,” she said. “For some it will be the first time they have been to a museum. It will be such a wonderful experience for them.”
She thanked Alice Walton for her extraordinary gift to the world. Founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation, the museum takes its name from a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated in the building design by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. A series of pavilions nestled around two creek-fed ponds will house galleries, meeting and classroom spaces, and a large, glass-enclosed gathering hall. Visitor amenities will include a café on a glass-enclosed bridge overlooking the ponds and a Marlon Blackwell-designed museum store. Sculpture and walking trails will link the museum’s 120-acre park and gardens to downtown Bentonville.
Crystal Bridges is currently building its permanent collection through the efforts of its professional staff as well as important gifts from private collectors such as Alice Walton and others. The collection features American masterworks dating from the Colonial era to contemporary times and will be on view to the public year-round. The museum also will display a changing array of special exhibitions featuring art from museums and collections throughout the region, nation and abroad. Memberships are now available. For more information, visit Crystalbridges.org.