The Momentary names longtime Crystal Bridges executive Jill Wagar new director

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,556 views 

Jill Wagar

Jill Wagar, a member of the founding executive team of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, is the new director at the Momentary, a Crystal Bridges sister organization in the city featuring contemporary arts and an entertainment venue.

Museum officials announced Wagar’s appointment Tuesday (Nov. 7) following a national search of nearly two years. Lieven Bertels was the founding director when the Momentary opened in February 2020. He departed in the spring of 2022.

According to the news release, Wagar was the interim director for the past several months as the venue hosted several events, including Format Festival and Live on the Green.

Wagar will continue to work at Crystal Bridges as a senior director.

“As we look ahead to the future of the Momentary, I believe Jill is the right choice to lead us into this next stage of growth and success,” said Tom Walton, chair of the Momentary Council. “Jill has been with us since the beginning, and she has an incredible track record of innovation, operational excellence, and delivering results for our community. Under her leadership, I know the Momentary is poised to become the best version of itself.”

The 63,000-square-foot satellite to Crystal Bridges is supported by the Walton Family Foundation and was founded by the Walton family, based on the vision of brothers Tom and Steuart Walton and Tom’s wife, Crystal Bridges board chairperson Olivia Walton.

As director, Wagar will work to advance similar creative projects. She’ll be responsible for driving attendance and enhancing community engagement across the institution through consistent access to inspiring music, art and social experiences.

“We are delighted to appoint Jill to help lead the Momentary into the future,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges’ executive director and chief diversity and inclusion. “She has developed and executed the museum’s strategic plan brilliantly, including during the turbulent period of the pandemic. Jill is committed to implementing new leadership models, cross-functional collaboration, inclusion and access, and team building at our organization.”

Wagar was “at the table” when Alice Walton shared her vision for Crystal Bridges. She was initially the museum’s director of development, then director of advancement, chief strategy officer and deputy director.

Before joining the museum, she was executive director of the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Foundation (2005-2011) and director of public affairs and development of the Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, Okla. (1996-2005).

“It is an incredible honor to lead the Momentary, a space that continues to explore ways to connect communities with exciting and engaging music, art, and food,” Wagar said. “I am deeply committed to building on the foundation of innovation and creativity the Walton family and our dedicated team have established to maximize the Momentary’s potential.”

Wagar’s executive career spans over 25 years in the medical services, higher education and cultural arts sectors. Earlier this year, she told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that she has benefited from tremendous leaders — Bigelow, for one — who appreciate, empower, trust, challenge and value her each day.

“These attributes paired with empathy create a leadership superpower I seek to emulate daily,” she said. “Understanding the unique skills and traits that each colleague brings to work allows me to interact individually with care, while also providing clear expectations to enable collective goals to be achieved.”

Wagar was a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s 2008 Forty Under 40 class.

After announcing plans for a remodel in early 2023, the newly transformed Momentary will officially launch to the public on Nov. 18 with a free party featuring an array of activities — artist talks, DJ sets and dance parties — as well as a new gift shop, refurbished lobby and updated Onyx Coffee Lab.

The campus-wide exhibition, Enduring Amazon: Life and Afterlife in the Rainforest, will also open to the public on Nov. 18.