Wal-Mart Gives Crystal Bridges $20M; Museum Admission Free To All

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Thursday announced that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was giving the Bentonville museum a $20 million grant to cover admission fees for all visitors.

The grant is intended to make admission to the museum free in perpetuity. A $10 admission fee for adults had been under consideration before the grant announcement, the museum said.

Museum officials and guests including Gov. Mike Beebe were on hand for the announcement, which took place in front of the recently completed main entrance to the museum, giving the public its first opportunity to view it.

Near the entrance is the 47-foot-tall, stainless steel tree-like sculpture called "Yield," by Roxy Paine.

"The Northwest Arkansas community is so important to us - it's where our associates live, work and play," Wal-Mart President and CEO Mike Duke said in a news release. "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, executive director of Crystal Bridges, said, "One of the greatest challenges for museums today is finding ways to remove barriers to community participation, including admission charges. Walmart has shown extraordinary vision and foresight in funding access to the museum, providing all that Crystal Bridges has to offer to all people at no cost. We know that this gift will allow the museum to become a daily resource in our community."

The grant, which will be given during a period of five years, is the first gift to the museum's new Next Generation Fund, which addresses the economic, social and cultural barriers that often prevent people from participating in the arts.  

"The arts should be an essential part of every child's education," Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe said in a museum news release. "When Crystal Bridges opens on 11-11-11, it will be an incredible resource, and now it will be free to all who visit. The outstanding art found there will encourage young people by expanding their creativity, giving them an invaluable outlet for self-expression, and helping to develop greater artistic literacy."

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, spearheaded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation, is expected to display one of the finest collections of American art in the world when it opens on Nov. 11.

Attending Thursday's event were Mike Malone, CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council; Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin; Rogers Mayor Greg Hines; Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan; and Dick Trammel, executive vice president of Arvest Bank in Rogers and a Beebe-appointed Arkansas highway commissioner.

In May, the foundation announced that it was providing the museum an endowment of $800 million.

In addition to the cultural attractions of the museum, Crystal Bridges is expected to be a driver of economic development in northwest Arkansas, particularly downtown Bentonville. Area economic development officials expect the museum to attract about 250,000 visitors during its first year. Free and open admission could conceivably boost that total.

The museum, designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, takes its name from a nearby natural spring. It will include a series of pavilions which will house galleries, meeting and classroom spaces, and a glass-enclosed gathering hall. The museum will also include a café and a museum store designed by another renowned architect, Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville. Sculpture and walking trails will link the museum's 120-acre park and gardens to downtown Bentonville.

For more information about the museum, visit CrystalBridges.org.


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Click here to see a gallery of how construction is progressing at the museum.

(Serenah McKay contributed to this report.)