New Crystal Bridges board chair Olivia Walton is on a mission to expand the definition of art

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 4,669 views 

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Olivia Walton, the new board chair for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, is full of hints of what’s to come.

Named in mid-November to the post, she takes over for museum founder Alice Walton in that role. Olivia Walton, a former technology reporter for Bloomberg and NBC, is married to Tom Walton, grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Her background in the arts stems from childhood through college to her adult work.

“I have really been sort of a lifelong museum junkie,” Walton says in an exclusive Talk Business & Politics interview. “I think that art has this incredible power to inspire creativity, to inspire new ways of seeing, to inspire new ways of thinking. Alice has this expression. She says, ‘If you have access to art, you have access to imagination. And if you have imagination, you have hope.’ And I just think that’s a beautiful sentiment. So I really think that art has power to lift the spirit, and I think that museums are incredibly powerful. I mean, museums are able to educate. They are able to entertain. They are able to inspire. They are able to build community.”

When she was named to chair the board of the Bentonville-based world-class museum, Walton said she wanted to “expand the definition of art.” To her, that means moving outside the traditional media of painting and sculpture.

“On the one hand, expanding the definition of art means expanding more and more into art as culture. It means performing arts. It means music. It could be culinary. In the Crystal Bridges physical expansion, expanding our definition of art goes alongside these two big commitments. We announced a commitment to craft and a commitment to Indigenous art,” she said.

Olivia Walton, new board chair of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

“So craft typically has been the medium of the marginalized, right? And for a long time, the only people who had access to art school and oil paints tended to be wealthy, white and overwhelmingly male. And so if you look at craft and you look at the rich history of craft in this region, so often that was the artistic creative outlet for those who just didn’t have access to those things. So it’s really exciting to come, bring that into the museum, to put it on a pedestal, to shine a light and to tell those stories,” she added.

Walton will continue to lead The Momentary, the contemporary art space and satellite of Crystal Bridges. In addition to a variety of art, The Momentary features culinary experiences, festivals, and music – what Walton describes as easier ways for people to access the arts.

“People come back to listen to music more often than they go to a museum. And they also bring a little bit more stoke than even the best art lovers. So I think the Momentary is well on its way to becoming our original vision of a living room for the community,” she said. “We might tweak a couple more things in the downstairs atrium. We might bring in an awesome restaurant.”

Walton’s main focus on expanding the reach of Crystal Bridges will center on new ideas and partnerships. Her worldwide connections can open doors as is evidenced by the newly announced display in Bentonville of an original copy of the U.S. Constitution, which sold at auction for $43.2 million.

“I just happened to be at Sotheby’s in New York City last week with a group of Crystal Bridges supporters, who we take on these great trips from time to time, and Rod Bigelow, our director, said, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if the winner just lent it to Crystal Bridges so we can display it?’ And I happen to know Brooke [at Sotheby’s], who had the winning bidder on the phone. I said, ‘Brooke, you should just say to whoever won it, “We can put it on display tomorrow.”’ And she said, ‘Okay, I’ll tell him.’ So she told him and he said yes. We don’t have a relationship with Ken Griffin, and we were just so grateful and excited that the U.S. Constitution is coming to Bentonville, Arkansas,” she said.

You can watch Olivia Walton’s full interview in the video below.