Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art said Wednesday that it will expand the museum by 50%, adding nearly 100,000 SF to the 200,000-SF facility in Bentonville.
In a news release, the museum said the expansion will allow it "to showcase its growing collection and welcome more visitors to experience the power of art, in an inclusive environment."
Officials aim to begin construction in early 2022 and finish in 2024. A reconfigured main lobby and courtyard will be completed in May.
Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges' executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer, told Arkansas Business that it was too early to say how much the expansion will cost. But he said funding will come from the museum's existing capital improvements endowment. And while philanthropists in Arkansas and across the country will contribute to the expansion, the museum will not launch a fundraising campaign for it, he said.
International architecture firm Safdie Architects, which designed the original museum, is designing the expansion. Hight Jackson Associates of Rogers is the associate architect, and CEI Engineering Associates Inc. of Bentonville are the civil engineers. Flintco LLC of Tulsa is the general contractor.
Officials said the new space will increase capacity for presenting art and exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming and community events. Crystal Bridges has had more than 5 million visitors since opening in 2011.
"It's wonderful to see how our community, our region, and travelers to Bentonville from across the nation and around the world have embraced Crystal Bridges, and enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by art, nestled in nature, and immersed in Moshe Safdie's architecture," Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges’ founder and board chairperson, said in a statement.
"With the number of visitors we welcome annually, it's timely to enlarge our building and make sure more people can access these offerings. Having Safdie Architects expand on its original Crystal Bridges design with this new addition will create a unified experience for enjoying art, nature, and architecture."
A 25-Year Plan
Bigelow said the expansion is part of a 25-year plan for the museum, as well as the public response it's received. When Crystal Bridges opened a decade ago, officials expected 200,000-250,000 visitors per year, he said. In 2019, it had 700,000.
"So there is definitely a need, from just a visitation perspective," he said.
Safdie Architects is now reconfiguring the museum's lobby and courtyard. But the firm's design for the expansion includes new structures to house more galleries, educational facilities, event spaces, a café and new indoor and outdoor gathering spaces.
"This additional space will allow us to incorporate crafts, for instance," Bigelow said. "That is a whole new space for fine art, and [the expansion] allows us to share artists who have been sort of left out of the conversation and history. And so we're really looking forward to having a more inclusive display and experience for guests."
The expansion will also add to the pavilions already on the 120-acre site, and materials for the project — concrete, timber and fieldstone — will be sourced from northwest Arkansas. New interior and exterior connections will link the galleries and program spaces and the surrounding park with its 5 miles of trails, according to the museum.
In all, the expansion will increase gallery space by 65%, adding two new galleries and more room for temporary exhibitions and community displays; a dedicated floor of community gathering areas, art studios, maker spaces and flexible facilities; a new bridge connecting two galleries that will serve as a non-traditional space for art; and a circular event plaza.
"It's exciting because we've nearly doubled the collection [since 2011], and so there's more to be shown, and part of what we're really thinking about is how do we tell more stories," Bigelow said. "We're focused on diversifying the collection and telling a diversity of stories associated with American history and American artists, so it gives us an opportunity to sort of completely rethink that again and make an opportunity that is going to continue to be greatly impactful to those who come.
"I think the other thing that's really wonderful about the expansion is that it'll create engagements with the nature aspect of the museum, where we'll create more outdoor spaces where people can either hang out, they can have an experience, there will be programming," he said. "So it creates this really wonderful interface between indoors and out."
Bigelow said the expansion will also create "a great foundation for us to connect more broadly out in the community by co-creating programs and sharing experiences, both on the grounds and in communities across northwest Arkansas."
More Big Plans
Other companies from throughout the world are working on the project.
Coen+Partners Landscape Architects of Minneapolis is helping develop dedicated outdoor spaces and enhancements to the museum's network of trails and art displays. Buro Happold of the United Kingdom will be the structural, façade and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer. LAM of Lyon, France, is working on lighting.
Crystal Bridges opened with about 1,500 artworks spanning five centuries of American art and has presented more than 60 exhibitions. Construction costs reached at least $150 million, according to Arkansas Business' 2010 list of the state's largest construction projects.
The Momentary, a 63,000-SF satellite space dedicated to contemporary art, opened last year.
"In its first 10 years, Crystal Bridges has catalyzed economic development in northwest Arkansas by transforming the region into a destination for tourism and enhancing the quality of life for our residents," Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of Northwest Arkansas Council, said in the release. "The museum’s expansion will open opportunities for artists and creatives and provide access to more world-class art in our community."
The Crystal Bridges announcement comes as Walton plans to break ground this spring on her Whole Health Institute, a multimillion-dollar center designed by Marlon Blackwell for holistic wellness also on the Crystal Bridges campus. She also announced plans for an affiliated School of Medicine but has not said where in Bentonville it will be.