Sandy Edwards, deputy director of Museum Relations at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is getting used to fielding a single question from persons outside the state.
How do you expect people to feel like they can take ownership of the facility when a single family has made it all possible?
“That question comes mainly from our neighbors on the east and west coasts, and my answer to that is, ‘You don’t know Arkansans’,” Edwards said.
The Walton Family — with Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart Stores founders Helen and Sam Walton, leading the charge — endowed close to $800 million for the operation, collection and capital expenses of Crystal Bridges, all before the doors were ever opened in November 2011. Since then, according to Edwards, the state has embraced the facility.
“In less than five months of operation, we’ve had 498 volunteers log a total of 10,839 hours at the museum, and we’ve had more than 1,000 names express an interest in volunteering that we simply haven’t been able to get to yet. Our biggest problem so far has been managing success,” Edwards said.
As the keynote speaker at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast (March 30), Edwards delivered a Crystal Bridges status report that would make other upstart institutions envious.
In addition to the large endowment from the Walton Family, Crystal Bridges also received a $20 million endowment from Walmart, which keeps admission free to all visitors.
The Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation contributed an additional $10 million endowment toward the School Visits Program, which reimburses schools any out-of-pocket expenses for field trips to the Museum.
Finally, the Shewmaker Family contributed another $1 million endowment for art studio supplies that allow spectators to come in on Saturdays and Sundays, learn more about art, and create their own, Edwards said.
Thus far, Crystal Bridges has logged more than 225,000 visits to the facility, according to Edwards, eclipsing the one-year goal in just five months of operation.
“We live in a state with philanthropists, who are unique among philanthropists. They perpetuate the honored tradition of sharing and hope to inspire others to give. All of you who are Arkansans and understand what it is to live in a less populated state know that if you can make a compelling reason for why you need financial support, it’s there. I would say it’s in our DNA (to give),” Edwards said.
Edwards continued: “In the worst of times, the Walton Family wanted to make sure people could still come out and enjoy the experience (of Crystal Bridges). They wanted to make sure the art collection would continue growing, and that the Museum would have the capital to keep growing as well. It is a uniquely Arkansas tradition that has fueled this project.”
To close the presentation, Edwards showed slides of the “more than five centuries worth of art” that inhabits the Crystal Bridges facility and invited guests to visit the next two exhibitions:
• The Hudson River School Exhibit on nature and the American landscape begins May 5 and goes through Sept. 4.
• The American Encounters: Thomas Cole and the Narrative Landscape Exhibit starts one week later on May 12 and goes through Aug. 13.