Crystal Bridges Finds A Perfect Fit in Northwest Arkansas
From California to New York, the art world is abuzz as Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, one of the largest American art museums in the country, prepares for its grand opening in Northwest Arkansas. This museum marks the first American art museum of its caliber opening in more than 50 years.
“The location was chosen because that’s where Alice Walton wanted it,” said Jeri Dockery, a docent at Crystal Bridges.
The museum was constructed on land that belonged to the Walton family, and on which Alice Walton, the museum’s founder, played as a child. It was important to Walton that the museum be built in her own “backyard” so that the community could benefit from and enjoy the collection, according to Alice Murphy, marketing coordinator for Crystal Bridges.
The museum sits atop 120 acres of land in Bentonville. There are six trails surrounding the museum grounds that cover more than 3.5 miles and feature everything from outdoor art to lush dogwoods and tulips.
The trails are pedestrian- and bike-friendly and will allow museum visitors to admire the beautiful landscape and foliage that Northwest Arkansas has to offer.
Although there has been some controversy about the museum’s hard-to-reach location, Crystal Bridges supporters believe that the museum is making art more accessible to more people.
“Right now if you were to go see some of the extraordinary art in this world, you would have to travel,” said Sandra K. Edward, deputy director of museum relations. “This is now in our backyard. There are built-in groups of people who want to come to the museum. Especially Sunday morning after an Arkansas game, there will be people who want to see some great art before driving back home. We feel like bringing the art to this part of the country would give people a chance to see the art who won’t travel to big urban cities.”
Edwards said that people who are not from Arkansas or have never visited the state might not understand why a museum of this magnitude would be built at this location.
“Right off the bat, when it was announced that this museum was going to be in Arkansas, a lot of people hearing the news had not been to Arkansas, and they were intrigued about the location,” Edwards said. “The Walton family has a vested interest in helping the university and keeping Northwest Arkansas really vibrant. We get it because we live here, but they don’t understand because they’ve never been to Northwest Arkansas.”
Jordan Lim, senior art major at the UA, said that she hopes critics will give the museum a chance and that after visiting Crystal Bridges, they will have a better understanding of the benefits associated with the museum’s unexpected location.
“There have been some mixed reactions in the art world about the location of Crystal Bridges, but I think that the attention it will gain nationally will help dispel a lot of negativity about Arkansas,” Lim said. “The museum’s walking trails will really showcase all of the natural beauty that the area has to offer, and the collection is a great example of all the hidden resources and knowledge that can be found in Arkansas.”
The mission of Crystal Bridges is to welcome everyone to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape, Murphy said.
“We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities,” she said.
True to that mission of welcoming all, accessibility has been one of Crystal Bridges’ primary goals. One of the reasons Crystal Bridges came about was because Walton saw a lack of opportunity in northwest Arkansas for people to view, enjoy and become familiar with great works of art.
Crystal Bridges strongly supports the view that “great art” is for everyone, Murphy said.
The initial planning for the museum began in 2005, but the museum faced some challenges during construction.
“The main challenges to construction of the Museum have been due to its unique location,” Murphy said.
“Water management is important and has provided some engineering challenges.”
Crystal Bridges got its name from Crystal Springs, a natural spring that flows into several pounds on the museum’s grounds.
While constructing the museum, nearly five miles of drainage systems were installed under the museum and its grounds to channel the large supply of ground water away from the buildings, Murphy said.
There was a two-year gap between the museum’s intended 2009 opening and the actual opening date, Nov. 11, 2011.
“I don’t even know why we said that,” Edwards said. “We didn’t know how long it was going to take. It is a very challenging site. Building in that site was really different and a main challenge is that we spent a year and a half stabilizing the soil.”
Rainwater was another concern; however, the museum’s pond and weir design will allow the runoff water to pass through the ponds and down the natural streambed to prevent any flooding, Murphy said.
The design was built to accommodate water levels over and above the 1,000-year-flood stage — the water level at which a stream has risen to cause damage and be considered a flood.
But despite the challenges associated with constructing the museum, Crystal Bridges was able to fulfill its mission of bringing art to an untapped region.