Crystal Bridges Creating Central U.S. Cultural Center

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 150 views 

Artists of all kinds will have an opportunity to hone their craft in a 63,000-SF arts venue that will be part of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in downtown Bentonville.

Crystal Bridges, with the support of the Walton Family Foundation, will renovate the former Kraft Foods plant into the venue, which is expected to open in 2018. The former plant is 1.5 miles south of Crystal Bridges.

Kent Butler, president of Northwest Arkansas Tourism Association, expects that a budding artist will create art there and go on to become famous.

Crystal Bridges’ economic impact is “incalculable,” Butler said. This project “affects all regions of Northwest Arkansas.”

Butler, who performs in the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, said the venue will not only have a financial impact but also a cultural impact. The museum is “creating a cultural center in the central United States.”


Art of Our Times

The venue will be part of the museum but have its own name and identity, said Beth Bobbitt, public relations manager for Crystal Bridges. “While Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection highlights five centuries of American art, this new facility will focus on the art of our times, creating a complimentary experience.” The venue’s name and identity might be determined as early as this summer.

When asked how much is being invested into the project, Bobbitt said “we are at the early stages of this project, and talking about any figures would be premature.” Project funding will likely come from a mix of sources, “including possible sponsors and donors, community collaborations (and) memberships.”

In June 2014, Food Hub NWA LLC purchased a 55,000-SF industrial building and 6.6 acres at 507 S.E. E St. in Bentonville for $1.45 million. Kraft Foods Group Inc. of Virginia was the seller. The repurposed industrial building will be the 63,000-SF arts venue when completed.

Food Hub is a Delaware-registered company which has the same Bentonville mailing address — P.O. Box 1860 — as that of Walton Enterprises LLC, the holding company owned by heirs of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder Sam Walton.


Quality of Life

Brothers Steuart Walton and Tom Walton, grandsons of Sam Walton, are leading the Walton Family Foundation’s support of the venue.

“Our family is committed to giving back to the place where we grew up,” said Steuart Walton in a press release from Crystal Bridges. “Surrounded by urban trails and new culinary offerings, this experimental concept will complement our work in Northwest Arkansas — raising the quality of life for all residents, especially the Millennial generation.”

“Our region has been a place where people come to chase opportunity, but we now see people attracted to the area for the quality of life, especially young professionals,” according to a March 30 email from Tom Walton that was released by the Walton Family Foundation. “At the Walton Family Foundation, we are working hard with our partners to create the lifestyle that helps us retain that talent.”

Mike Malone, president and CEO of Northwest Arkansas Council, shared that sentiment.

“Because Crystal Bridges and so many others in Northwest Arkansas are making transformative investments into amenities like the Kraft building, the culinary arts and hospitality management program at Northwest Arkansas Community College, the Razorback Regional Greenway, the Walton Arts Center and our region’s downtowns, we’re becoming even more attractive to people who want to live in one of America’s best metro areas,” Malone said. “These types of smart investments are making a difference, and it’s one of the reasons we’re seeing companies expand here.”

Kalene Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville also agreed with Tom Walton’s comments. The new venue will “contribute to the growth of Bentonville as a cultural tourism destination,” she said. “It will be a wonderful compliment to the already growing arts and cultural amenities to our city.”


Intersection of Art And Everyday Life

Wheeler Kearns Architects of Chicago was selected to handle the architectural design of the project.

“There will be some redesign of the facility with the goal of preserving the industrial elements which inspire a more experimental art-making approach,” Bobbitt said. Details on contractors and design plans will be released soon.

“The ambition of the project to embed and engage living American artists within a community, to celebrate the intersection of art and everyday life, is thrilling,” said Dan Wheeler, founding principal of Wheeler Kearns Architects.

Crystal Bridges and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will collaborate to develop programs for the venue.

It will include performance areas for music, film, theatre and a “multi-disciplinary artists-in-residence program,” Bobbitt said. Some of the possible options for the artist-in-residence program include “visual, performing and even culinary arts. For example, artists could apply to spend a few weeks at the venue, or we may seek artists to exhibit at the venue.”

The arts venue will serve as anchor for Bentonville’s Market District, according to the press release from Crystal Bridges.