Hands-On Educational Program at Crystal Bridges Receives $1 Million

If you think Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville isn’t for kids. Think again.

Crystal Bridges gives kids a hands-on way to explore art in its educational studios – a “high-touch, low tech experience,” according to Don Bacigalupi, the museum’s executive director.

That offering just got sweeter today with a generous gift of $1 million from the Jack and Melba Shewmaker family to benefit the ongoing educational programs. The museum has an experience studio, where kids can dress up, play with puppets, peruse art books, learn about art materials, and much more. There’s also a drop-in studio providing a place for kids to make art.

Melba Shewmaker said in a press conference today that she is happy her family has the opportunity to give their gift. “We’re happy to be able to provide the supplies,” she said. “Art is very important to the young and they may not have had this experience at home. I know that was important to Alice growing up, drawing at the table at home with her mom.”

Director of Education Niki Stewart said “the element of play is a really important part of the learning process at every age.” She added that the studios give kids a place to gage their senses and explore visual arts. School groups will use these spaces as well.

Brayden Bice, a an 8 year old from Bentonville, was on-hand with several other children for the announcement. He said he liked the studios at the museum because “you can come play with the puppets or try on costumes or make a story with magnets.”

The studios are open when the museum is open, so take your kids along and enjoy the studios along with the museum collection. I bet your kids will thank you.

I’d like to thank the Shewmakers for such a generous gift. Shewmaker family members are long-time residents of Bentonville and great supporters of education. Until his retirement in 1988, Jack Shewmaker, who passed away a year ago, served in several administrative positions with Walmart, including president and chief operations officer, as well as vice chairman and chief financial officer. The Shewmakers also operate JAC’s Ranch, one of the largest angus cattle operations in Northwest Arkansas. The family supports many educational institutions, including the Arend Arts Center, Northwest Arkansas Community College, and Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). In 2010 Jack and Melba Shewmaker were jointly presented with the Lifetime Philanthropic Achievement Award by the Northwest Arkansas Association of Fundraising Professionals.

About 44,000 people visited the museum during its first three weeks. The mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

Founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation, the Museum opened on 11-11-11 and 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 spring-fed ponds house galleries, meeting and classroom spaces, and a large, glass-enclosed gathering hall. Guest amenities include a restaurant on a glass-enclosed bridge overlooking the ponds and a Marlon Blackwell-designed museum store. Sculpture and walking trails link the Museum’s 120-acre park to downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.

The permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. Included within the collection are iconic images such as Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits and Maxfield Parrish’s The Lantern Bearers, each reflecting a distinct moment in American artistic evolution. Crystal Bridges will continue to grow its collection through the efforts of its professional staff as well as through important gifts from private collectors. The permanent collection, which is on view year-round, will be further enhanced by an array of ongoing temporary exhibitions.

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