BENTONVILLE -- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art continues to grow and influence the Northwest Arkansas economy as it prepares to commemorate its 10th anniversary.
Plans for its future include expanded lobby and gallery space; an outdoor event space; a new playground and parking garage shared with its neighbor, the Scott Family Amazeum; and a parking deck and multifamily housing development at the Momentary, its multidisciplinary, contemporary art space that is also in Bentonville.
"I envisioned the museum as a resource for our region and also a destination that would draw others here," said Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges founder and board chairwoman. "Nearly 10 years later, we can certainly say it's done that."
The 200,000-square-foot museum opened Nov. 11, 2011, on 120 acres, said Beth Bobbitt, public relations director. About 9.6 million people have journeyed to the museum with some 110,000 visiting the museum, 150,000 exploring the trails and 200,000 engaging with online programs so far this year, she said.
Crystal Bridges transformed Bentonville into a destination for tourism and catalyzed economic development in the entire region, said Nelson Peacock, Northwest Arkansas Council president and CEO. The council is a nonprofit group of area business and civic leaders.
"The economic impact will continue to grow as the museum expands, enhancing the quality of life for residents, opening opportunities for artists and providing access to more world-class art in the community," Peacock said.
Museums generated more than $50 billion for the economy, 726,200 jobs and $12 billion in taxes nationally in 2016, according to the 2018 American Alliance of Museums report "Museums as Economic Engines." The group's mission is to champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with their members and allies.
The museum industry in Arkansas supports an estimated $385 million in economic activity, 7,250 jobs and $89.4 million in taxes annually, according to the report. About $258 million in wages and other income are earned by people working in the state's museum sector each year.
Crystal Bridges doesn't share information on its financial activities or costs associated with development, Bobbitt said.
"We measure impact in terms of attendance and the overall visitor experience," she said.
Crystal Bridges employs 308 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees and has plans to continue to increase its footprint, Bobbitt said.
The museum added an about 3,200-square-foot north lobby, an elevator tower and a pedestrian bridge in 2017, and completed a reconfiguration of its main lobby and courtyard in May, Bobbitt said.
Crystal Bridges also has several development projects in the works, including a 100,000-square-foot expansion, she said.
"It's a manifestation of our commitment to this community and to this region so that we will continue to build infrastructure here that will allow us to have more connectivity and connections to the broader community," said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges executive director.
Safdie Architects of Boston, the museum's original designer, will work with the expansion to ensure consistency in the design, Bigelow said.
Construction is planned from early 2022 to 2024, Bobbitt said, and will increase the museum's gallery space by 65%.
"We're going to have a new, special exhibition space. We're going to have a new education wing," said Austen Barron Bailly, chief curator.
A new bridge with floor-to-ceiling views of the natural surroundings will connect the two galleries and provide a nontraditional space for art not sensitive to light, Bobbitt said. The bridge will offer spaces for reflection, gathering and a cafe.
A circular, outdoor event plaza will increase opportunities for community programming and performances, Bobbitt said.
The museum is collaborating with the adjacent Amazeum to create a 309,000-square-foot play area called Convergence, and a six-story parking deck with 820 spaces and a performance area, according to planning documents submitted to the city.
Convergence and the parking deck will be built on 4 acres on the southeast side of Crystal Bridges' campus and the adjoining western edge of the Amazeum's property.
Convergence will be free to access, will have interactive elements and water features mimicking the Ozark landscape, and will offer opportunities for educational art and science programming, Bobbitt said.
"Northwest Arkansas is home to so many amazing, world-class experiences -- public art, nature centers, botanical gardens, playgrounds, museums -- this project brings part of all those into a single destination designed for children of all ages, adults and families," said Sam Dean, Amazeum executive director.
The project design is being paid for by the Walton Family Foundation's Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, according to a museum news release.
The grant to Crystal Bridges for the design is $382,037, said Luis Gonzalez, senior communications officer for the foundation's Home Region Program.
Construction of Convergence and the parking deck began in the spring and is expected to be complete in the fall of 2022, Bobbitt said.
Crystal Bridges' investment in the region continued with the February 2020 opening of the Momentary, a 63,000-square-foot, multidisciplinary contemporary art space in the former Kraft Foods plant in downtown Bentonville. The Momentary is about 1½ miles from Crystal Bridges near the 8th Street Market and along the Razorback Greenway.
The space, which employs 56 people, welcomed more than 92,000 visitors and had 13,860 people experience online programming its first year, said Lieven Bertels, Momentary director. The space was closed three weeks after opening because of the covid-19 pandemic and opened that June, he said.
The staff has quietly continued developing the space during the pandemic to include improved sound, lighting and video projection systems, and began a parking deck, Bertels said.
The three-level parking deck will accommodate 597 spaces, said Angel Horne, Momentary public relations manager. Construction is expected to be complete in November, Bertels said.
The parking deck is part of phase one of a South of Momentary development project, according to planning documents.
Phase two plans include a multifamily housing development with 50 residential units and a small art gallery for artists. The city Planning Commission approved the project Tuesday.
ArtSpace, a Minneapolis nonprofit arts developer, is proposing the development, Bobbitt said.
The development is estimated to cost $16 million, said Laura Moran, ArtSpace communications manager. The project will be paid for through a combination of philanthropy, a mortgage, equity raised through the sale of low-income housing tax credits and affordable housing finance resources, she said.
"We are the landowner, but not the project owner," Bobbitt said of Crystal Bridges' role in the proposed development.
ArtSpace plans to enter into a long-term ground lease with Crystal Bridges, Moran said.
The housing development will be adjacent to the north and east sides of the parking deck, essentially "wrapping" the garage and concealing it from view, according to planning documents.
The residences will be designed for local artists, who wouldn't have to be affiliated with the Momentary, Bertels said.
"One of the things we are indeed discussing is to see how we can integrate other people from the creative community with affordable housing nearby the Momentary here on campus so that those people are not pushed out of a very competitive housing market in downtown Bentonville," he said.
Residents could have areas of emphasis as varied as graphic design, traditional art and the creative industries, Bertels said.
No timeline has been determined for the project, he said.
"In opening Crystal Bridges, I hoped that the museum would provide access to our region to arts experiences that I believe can be transformational," Walton said. "Art can engage, educate and inspire people, and it should be for everyone, not just people in large cities who have easy access."
[Don't see the quiz above, click here: nwaonline.com/artquiz2/]
Plan a visit
More information for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary programming is available at:
• Crystal Bridges: https://crystalbridges.org/
• The Momentary: https://themomentary.org/
Source: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art