Rod Bigelow on Keeping a Full Palette at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Rod Bigelow was promoted to executive director of the Bentonville museum in February upon the promotion of former Executive Director Don Bacigalupi to the new position of museum president.

Before his promotion, Bigelow had served as the deputy director of operations and administration at Crystal Bridges since 2010. He oversaw the areas of finance, facilities, grounds and trails, IT, security, human resources, culinary and retail activities.

Bigelow formerly served as chief operating officer and interim executive director at the Toledo Museum of Art and as chief financial officer and interim executive director at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington.

Q: How does your management style differ from that of Don Bacigalupi?

A: Don and I look at things in much the same way, simply through a different lens. As president of the museum, he’s actively involved as a board member and focused on a few major initiatives with national and international impact, and I’m focused on organizational methods. Logistical details are a priority for me — I often think about who needs to be included, how can we move forward and how do we communicate it.

You have some CFO experience. How will that experience inform the way you work as executive director of Crystal Bridges?

I do have financial and operational perspectives that help inform the fact that even though we are a nonprofit arts organization, we are still a business that has to achieve specific goals, balance a budget and create stellar learning experiences. Experimentation and appropriate risk are healthy and important in moving forward as long as we understand the impact, and I can easily analyze impact and include that in decision-making. Plus, it’s often easier to communicate with the business community given a common language of strategic planning, business plans, measurable outcomes, etc. While the CFO experience helps in those ways, it’s the totality of experience that’s most important.

The museum has backers with deep pockets, but even the deep-pocketed make budgets, so how does the museum go about creating a budget?

Part of our culture is to be efficient and productive with our resources. As an institution, we determine departmental priorities and how those relate to overall museum priorities, and then set budgets that fit our resources. Of course, everything doesn’t always go as planned, so being nimble and able to take corrective actions is imperative.

What museum other than Crystal Bridges do you like most to visit?

There are so many I enjoy — the Museum of Modern Art in New York is one — but also many in our region, including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Menil Collection in Houston, as well as the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa. I’m also very impressed by our local museums, including the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. They are both filled with incredible treasures.

What’s the Next Big Thing for Crystal Bridges?

Continuing to build on the momentum established during our inaugural year. For those who have been here, that means enticing them back to experience exciting exhibitions, see new works of art (inside and out), spend more time on our trails or join us for a talk, class, film or special event. For those who haven’t visited yet, that includes wowing them with art, architecture, our grounds and more, right here in the Ozarks. Our goal is for the museum to continue to be an eye-opening experience that inspires.