An Interview with Alice Walton: Crystal Bridges An Expression of Love

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

“And I think people today have much less exposure to the non-straight-line-type aesthetic. And I don’t know how else to put it. There’s a better word, I’m sure,” Walton said, again laughing. “But I think that students today and people in general — just with the digital age we’re in — have much less exposure to art, things related to art than they used to have. And I think for that reason it’s much more important.

“I love art, and I don’t have to know anything about a piece of art to look at it and to ask questions and give myself answers and have a whole internal dialogue with a painting,” she said.

“But as I have learned more about a painting and as I’ve learned more about an artist and the social situation or the context that a piece is painted in, then it becomes even more meaningful. And I don’t believe that schools today have an emphasis on history and particularly American history as they once did, so I feel like what we can bring to our visitors in that respect is very important.”

Conveying American history through art is integral to the museum’s mission.

“I’ve always loved history,” said Walton, who graduated from Trinity College in San Antonio. “But I feel like I never really knew or understood American history until I started reading and studying art. And I feel like the history that I’ve learned is so much more alive and real than the history books taught me.”

Art, Walton said, brings alive the “social context of what people were thinking and feeling.”

The Walton family gives to a number of philanthropic causes. But when Alice was asked why the Waltons, and she in particular, decided to focus their resources on a museum, the answer was two-pronged but simple.

One, the area lacks cultural resources, and “I wanted to make a difference in that.”

And two: “When you give a gift, you want to give something that you hope greatly enriches and transforms other lives. So I guess it’s that potential at transformation that made me feel like it was the right thing to do.”

Since Then ...

2014: Crystal Bridges opened as planned on Nov. 11, 2011, with great fanfare and by August 2013 had seen its one millionth visitor. Visitors have come from all over the world.

Reviews of the museum — of its art, architecture, landscaping — have been uniformly positive; some have been ecstatic.

Since opening, Crystal Bridges has announced a number of acquisitions, including the relocation of a historic Frank Lloyd Wright house from New Jersey to the museum grounds.

As expected, the museum has helped foster development — restaurants, hotels, etc. — throughout the area. In February 2013, for example, the 21c Museum Hotel opened just off Bentonville’s downtown square and promptly was ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the hottest hotels in the U.S. and the world. In October 2012, Southern Living asked: “Is Bentonville the South’s Next Cultural Mecca?” A children’s museum is scheduled to open in the city next year. And tourism tax collections in the region continue to rise.

In 2012, Time placed Alice Walton on its list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. In October 2013, Walton received the Archives of American Art Medal; the archives is part of the Smithsonian Institution.



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