Olivia Walton, an advocate for the arts, women’s economic empowerment and maternal health, spoke to about 400 attendees Tuesday (Aug. 15) at the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 luncheon at Embassy Suites in Rogers.
Walton was the keynote speaker and was interviewed by Roby Brock, host of Talk Business & Politics and Capitol View and CEO of Natural State Media, the parent company of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. A New York native, Walton discussed her arts background, business journalism experience and what makes Northwest Arkansas unique.
“I think one of the things that really jumps out first and foremost as a New Yorker coming down here [is] it’s just how extraordinarily kind and warm the people are down here,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to raise a family, where people are actually respectful of one another, and I’m so excited that my children, growing up here, are going to absorb that.”
Walton is chairwoman of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founder and CEO of Ingeborg Investments and co-founder of the Heartland Summit.
“There is so much trust in this community,” she said. “I think that’s a big part of the Northwest Arkansas secret sauce is that there’s so much trust in this community that it makes everything go fast. Wherever you find lots of trust, things go faster, things go smoother, so I think that’s a big piece of the success.”
She also highlighted Northwest Arkansas’ growth and the less than 3% unemployment rate.
“We’ve got a world-class art museum,” she said. “We’re getting more and more world-class health facilities coming into the region. It is a dynamic, diverse, growing community. You can feel it. When you move to a small place like this, you can really make a difference. I’m really excited to be here, and I really believe we’re only in the second or third inning of the growth story of NWA.”
Walton said her father was a corporate attorney, and her mother owned an art gallery in New York City for 30 years. She recalled going to the art gallery and completing her homework there after school.
“I really didn’t appreciate it then,” she said. “But what I was being exposed to really introduced me to so many more perspectives, so many more people, so many more ways of living that I really only started to appreciate over time.”
She took an art history class during high school in Manhattan and visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art each week. She wrote her college admissions essay about running The Met. She said her mother and Alice Walton share an “anti-elitist approach to art. They both kind of have a view that we’re not going to let a small, elite group of art critics tell us what great art is. Art is for everybody.”
She noted the new exhibits coming to Crystal Bridges in September, the 100,000-square-foot expansion that’s underway and the programs in place to bring every fourth grader in the region to the museum this school year.
“We want to keep expanding the definition of art, so we are going to do that by collecting craft more and more, which has such a rich history in this region,” she said. “It was a narrow group of people who really had access to oil paints in art school, so craft was the medium of so many of the marginalized…We’ll also be collecting more and more indigenous art, which I’m really excited about, because both of those just let us tell more and more stories, lift more and more voices and tell this kind of more inclusive story of the history of American art and of the history of America.”
Her work as a TV journalist led her to start Ingeborg Investments, which focuses on direct investments into women-led, early-stage startups. She was a business correspondent for NBC News, MSNBC and an anchor for Bloomberg Television in New York and London. During her journalism career, she discovered the lack of available venture capital funding for women.
“Did you know that 2%- 3% of all VC money actually goes to female entrepreneurs? But when you actually look at the gender breakdown between who’s starting small businesses, it’s a lot closer to parity,” she said.
A mother of three children, Walton also is working to address the lack of quality maternal care in Arkansas.
“We are 50th for maternal mortality here in Arkansas,” she said. “That is unconscionable. We have the healthcare stats of developing countries in the richest country in the world. We can do better.”
Walton also explained the importance of social capital and encouraged the Forty Under 40 honorees to “continue to build your social capital. You can use this cohort. Northwest Arkansas was designed for this. It is a place where there’s so much community, but now there are also so many resources. There are accelerators. There are incubators. There are business groups. Continue to invest in them.”
Before Walton spoke, Robert Burns, Home Region Program Director for the Walton Family Foundation, and Brock hosted an informal breakout session with the Forty Under 40 honorees. They took questions on leadership, mentorship and networking and discussed regional growth and how to maintain it.
The event was sponsored by Intrust Bank. Link here for the 2023 Forty Under 40 class profiles.