Only major centers like New York and Boston can support great museums. Such is the conventional wisdom, but Alice Walton didn’t buy it. She had a vision of creating a superb American art museum in the center of the country, and inviting citizens to enjoy and learn from it in comfortable ways. As a successful banker, she had the savvy to guide the project. And she had the means. Alice’s father Sam founded Walmart, and the family already owned an extensive American art collection deemed one of the finest in the country, including works by Durand, Sargent, Peale, and others—centuries of American masterpieces.
In 2011, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Arkansas (also the headquarters of Walmart). Named after a spring on the property, the museum boasts 120 acres, a library, a sculpture garden, an operating budget of $16 million, and an endowment of over $800 million. Defying the odds, Alice Walton’s project received enthusiastic critical reviews for both its architecture and its collection. And thanks to Walmart sponsorship, admission is free. In its first full year of operation (2012), the museum attracted more than 600,000 visitors. Walton remains chairman of the board.
- Kelly Jane Torrance, “Wal-Art,” Philanthropy magazine, Summer 2011, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/wal_art
- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, crystalbridges.org
- Alice Walton biography, alicewalton.org