Crystal Bridges paints picture of its future by announcing new facility for contemporary art

A former Kraft cheese plant on East Street in downtown Bentonville will soon be home to a new contemporary art facility for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Photo: Mike Sinclair

Consider it a nice problem to have.

The not-quite five-year-old Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, home to an internationally recognized collection of works spanning several centuries, needs more space.

The museum wanted space for programming, space for studios and space for the museum’s ever-growing contemporary art collection. Those needs will be remedied courtesy of a more than 60,000-square-foot building in Bentonville that once housed a Kraft cheese factory.

Interior photo of the former cheese plant.

Photo: Mike Sinclair

The emptiness of the space about 1.5 miles south of the current campus excited museum officials, said Niki Stewart, the museum’s chief engagement officer. The first step toward renovating the building, due to open in 2018, will be to imagine the programming that will take place inside it and then build infrastructure to support it. Stewart mentioned creating room for dance performances, working artists and the like.

“The programs will drive what happens inside,” she said.

Discussions about purchasing and transforming the building first started about a year and half ago, Stewart said. The Walton Family Foundation will support the endeavor. Brothers Tom and Steuart Walton, grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton and nephews to museum founder Alice Walton, will lead the project.

While the space will lend itself to many types of artistic endeavors, one staple is already known. In partnership with the MASS MoCA – that’s the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – the new Crystal Bridges project will have a particular focus on the contemporary art. Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection will stay at the original campus, but works in the same vein as those the museum discovered while on the road building the “State of the Art” collection might find a temporary home at the new site.

“Art is being created all across America, every day, and ‘State of the Art’ was our call to action to pay attention,” said museum executive director Rod Bigelow in a press release announcing the new endeavor. “By creating a space in Bentonville for the continued investigation of art currently being created, we can engage the community in new dialogues, experiences, and opportunities. It gives our region specifically, and the nation at large, a destination for further exploration into what’s happening in American art.”

Stewart said many of the details of the project are still being decided. Among them, for instance, will be the admission price for the new facility. It’s a discussion project leaders have yet to start, but “I imagine we’re going to start from a place of access,” she said.

The original museum campus is free to enter courtesy of a sponsorship provided by Walmart.

Details about the museum can be found via

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