BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On November 11th, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is celebrating 10 years since its opening. And while the museum is well known for the art within its walls, it’s had an even bigger impact beyond them.
“It’s life changing,” said Bentonville artist, Richard Lorenz.
“What a powerful thing to drop in the middle of America,” said Graham Cobb, President and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Just off I-49 and tucked into a wooded oasis in the heart of Bentonville lies Crystal Bridges.
“Our mission from the very beginning was about art and nature and architecture and about welcoming all,” said Rod Bigelow, Executive Director and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Crystal Bridges. “Our community has embraced us in amazing ways and that’s through people coming as tourists to the region or people who have been here their entire lives.”
That emphasis on art, nature and architecture has threaded into the Bentonville Community. New buildings being built have an art-like quality to them.
Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman also said they take art into account when it comes to the parks and recreation department. They also try to put an emphasis on public art throughout the city.
“When you talk with people when they come, that’s one of the first things they’re going to mention is Crystal Bridges,” said Mayor Orman.
Cobb said the museum has elevated Bentonville as a tourist destination. It’s also contributed to attracting talented and high performing workers who want to make Northwest Arkansas their home.
“They want vibrant communities. They’re drawn to ideas that are not like their own, and cultural amenities and great food,” he said. “These are a lot of things that Bentonville boasts.”
It’s also boosted the city from an economic perspective. Cobb said from 2004 to 2010, the Bentonville Total Commercial Building Permit Value was about $290 million, for an average of $41 million annually. From 2011 to the first half of 2021, that same category has surpassed $1.4 billion, for an average of $128 million annually. That’s a three-time increase annually.
“Restaurants, hotels, tourism, it’s massive. It’s a big deal,” said Cobb. “But there’s the cultural piece that, in my opinion, is inseparable from our economy.”
“For us to have that right here in our backyard, that our students can benefit from is very, very valuable,” said Gravette School District Superintendent Maribel Childress.
Not many rural school districts have world class art right down the road. Childress said Crystal Bridges goes above and beyond by providing professional development for teachers and free museum kits for students.
“They are really committed to all of the students of Northwest Arkansas to our teachers and to our districts and making sure that we have whatever we need to help our students and our families connect with the museum and connect with art,” she said.
Bigelow said they have seen about 300,000 school children come through the doors of the museum.
“It’s exciting to see kids explore the world in which they live, thinking about challenging topics and topics of joy and thinking through what it means in their classroom and others that are in that room with them,” said Bigelow.
“It’s a huge impact because not a lot of people who are able to travel to the Louvre or other places,” said Lorenz. He’s an artist who has lived in Bentonville for about five years. He’s known as “The Bird Man” for his whimsical depictions of birds.
The museum is free to anyone who wants to go. Bigelow said that move was very intentional in making sure the museum is accessible to everyone. That accessibility has inspired and cultivated the local art scene, even inspiring people across the state, like Little Rock artist Lori Weeks.
“All the people nationwide, worldwide that come to visit the museum it’s just unbelievable and it’s so inspiring to everybody. We all feed off of it for sure,” she said.
Lorenz agrees: the word is out about Crystal Bridges and he hopes locals will keep showing it love for years to come.
“It’s right here in our backyard,” he said. “When there’s a new exhibit, take advantage of it and go every time.”
Crystal Bridges just unveiled it’s latest exhibit: In American Waters, The Sea in American Painting. According to the museum’s website, visitors will discover the sea as an expansive way to reflect on American culture and environment, learn how coastal and maritime symbols moved inland across the United States, and question what it means to be “in American waters.”
Crystal Bridges has several things happening on November 11th. Click here to find out.