May 26, 2022 — Despite seeing the stock of the nation’s largest retailer lose $34 billion in value last week, Walmart heir and Crystal Bridges Museum founder Alice Walton chose to donate $10 million gift and partner with two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to shepherd the next generation of future art leaders.
Today, Bentonville-based Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announced one of the largest museum endowments in the U.S. dedicated to developing the next generation of arts leadership. With a $10 million gift from the Alice L. Walton Foundation, the museum said it adds breadth, depth, and oversight to its nationally recognized initiative, reconstituting its robust internship program as a resounding “Commitment to Future Arts Leaders.”
For more than a decade, Crystal Bridges has developed opportunities for students to expand their practical experience through hands-on learning at the museum and more recently at its satellite contemporary arts space, the Momentary. While its internship offerings have become a first choice for top talent in a competitive field, the museum recognized a need to enhance the program.
“Five years ago, we strengthened an already successful internship program to focus on hiring and nurturing leaders from diverse backgrounds. Today we recognize there is still work to do,” said Alice Walton, founder, board member, and chair emeritus of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. “I believe it’s essential for museums to build an inclusive culture, and in order to do so it’s imperative to educate and develop future arts leaders.”
The $10 million gift continues Walton’s philanthropic spending spree since she stepped down as chairperson of the Crystal Bridges, the iconic northwest Arkansas museum that first opened a decade ago. She was replaced by Olivia Walton, a longtime journalist and Crystal Bridges board member who is married to Tom Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton.
The Bentonville foundation also recently announced support for internships and training at East LA Community College and LACMA in Los Angeles and a partnership with the Atlanta University Center Collective including Spelman College, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.
Last month, the foundation and Washington Regional Medical System announced their intention to create a regional health system to improve health outcomes across Northwest Arkansas and beyond. A year ago, the Walton heir’s namesake foundation announced a joint initiative with the Cleveland Clinic to identify ways to provide access to the Ohio hospital’s renowned specialty care services in Northwest Arkansas. The initiative was formed after a study highlighted that area residents frequently leave the region in order to receive specialty care.
Through these two initiatives, the Alice L. Walton Foundation and Washington Regional Medical System said they intend to work with Cleveland Clinic to support the growth of health care services in the region. The Northwest Arkansas foundation that is funded by the Walmart heir and Washington Regional will soon develop operational plans for this new partnership, with an intent to finalize next steps during the remainder of this year.
Black college access
As part of the current initiation, Crystal Bridges is partnering with HBCU’s Spelman College and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., to recruit interns from populations currently underrepresented in arts leadership.
Destinee Filmore was a student at Spelman when she participated in the museum’s internship program in 2018. She credits the internship for emboldening her to advance in her career as a museum professional, first as a Director’s Fellow at the Cleveland Museum of Art, then as a Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellow at the High Museum of Art. Today, Filmore is a Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Williams College Museum of Art.
“My time at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art empowered me with the knowledge that my art historical interests were deeply important to other scholars and to the field at large. Seeing women of color excelling in their careers showed me what the many pathways to becoming a successful curator looked like and inspired me to chart a path all my own,” reflects Filmore. “I owe much of my success to my time at Crystal Bridges and am eager to see the many opportunities that the expansion of its internship program will present to early-career curators and art historians.”
Working with institutions like Spelman and Fisk, which focus their art history programs on racial and cultural identities, reflects the museum’s promise to build a diverse workforce while training the next generation of museum leaders, Walton Foundation officials said.
Potential for learning experiences across artistic disciplines increased significantly in 2020 with the opening of the Momentary, whose mission to present contemporary visual, performing, and culinary arts expands opportunities for interns to explore all manner of artistic expression. At the Momentary, interns may receive training in theatrical stagecraft, music festival management, art fabrication, and sophisticated culinary production – cultural and educational experiences that hold tremendous appeal for a new generation of museum staff.
To better serve its students during their time at the museum and beyond, Walton’s endowment gift allows Crystal Bridges to add an administrator focused solely on the internship program and its impact. With a dedicated coordinator, Crystal Bridges will provide a more equitable experience and allow curators and other content experts to concentrate on student learning.
The intern coordinator will install a rigorous evaluation system to continually measure the overall impact of the program – to monitor the quality of the individual experience, to discover new aspects of museum practices, and prepare interns for additional coursework and employment opportunities in the field. Further, the intern coordinator will track students’ cultural careers for a minimum of five years following their time at Crystal Bridges.
“This generous gift embodies everything I’ve known Alice to care about as a museum leader and arts patron – access, diversity, and nurturing the next generation, a representative generation, of arts leaders,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Crystal Bridges. “This gift asks Crystal Bridges to continually sharpen its focus on diverse student learners and helps to establish a new standard in the field.”
In 2005, Walton founded Crystal Bridges as a non-profit charitable organization for all to enjoy. She gifted her art collection to form the basis of the museum’s collection, and the Walton family gifted 120-acres of land in downtown Bentonville as the site for the museum. Crystal Bridges opened to the public on Nov. 11, 2011. Since its opening, it has welcomed more than 5.6 million visitors from around the globe, with no cost for admission.