Alice Walton, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, established the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in 2005, with a mission “to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art to the beauty of nature”.
The museum opened in 2011, and in the decade since, the richest woman in the world became one of America’s most prominent arts philanthropists in areas such as arts education, empowering Americans exposure to world-class art, and creating a pipeline for various leaders in the field. She has also expanded her footprint in health and wellness in recent years by promoting a holistic approach to care and breaking down barriers to access.
Last November, Crystal Bridges announced that Olivia Walton, who is married to Alice’s nephew Tom, would replace Alice as president of the museum and become a member of the board. explaining his decision, walton said, “Over the past few years, I have founded new organizations focused on the arts as well as health and wellness, and I would like to focus more on my roles as Chairman of the Board of Directors of these entities. “
That doesn’t mean Walton’s philanthropy is slowing down. In May, Crystal Bridges announced a $10 million donation of the Alice Walton Foundation to create an endowment dedicated to developing the next generation of artistic leadership in museums, suggesting that Walton continues to focus on the museum she founded and cultivate diverse talents. Add to that the fact that a series of new organizations and partnerships are only intensifying, and it looks like Walton, 72, whose net worth is just south of $60 billion, is only beginning to scratch the surface of his philanthropic ambitions. And they’re all united by a similar impulse, as she recently told me via email.
“Education, arts and culture, health and wellness, community are all important ingredients to living a fulfilling life,” Walton said. “The organizations I’ve created focus on providing access to these things, especially to communities that don’t have access to them. If the work we do helps people feel connected, that they belong, that they are valued and cared for as a whole person, then we are meeting our goal.
Increasing Diversity in American Museums
Philanthropists are often influenced by other philanthropists, which is a way for funders at the forefront of certain issues to have an outsized impact. Walton, for example, escalated his interest in supporting diversity in museums to the Mellon Foundation. extensive work on the subjectstating that upon reading the funder’s studies, “I felt I could play a role in helping to address diversity in the field generally through the arts organizations I founded.”
Crystal Bridges has launched a college internship program in conjunction with universities across the country, including several historically black colleges and universities like Fisk and Spelman College. The museum has also established a high school internship program with students from the Arkansas Delta, an area that struggles to offer a wide range of career opportunities.
“With both programs, our goal is to help students explore and experience a variety of museum roles, so they can see if a career in this field might be right for them,” Walton said. Both programs also proved successful, so the logical next step, which took the form of his foundation’s $10 million pledge, was “to ensure long-term growth and sustainability.”
Likewise, the Foundation of art bridgeswhich Walton founded in 2017 to expand access to American art across the country, offers the Arts Bridges Fellows program, which allows participants from historically underrepresented groups to participate in a three-year fellowship with partner museums of the foundation.
Through her foundation, Walton has also partnered with the Ford Foundation and other organizations to address diversity in museum leadership and provide funding at the national level. “Ultimately, the future of museums depends on their ability to stay relevant and serve their communities,” Walton said. “That won’t happen if the staff and management of the museum don’t reflect the diversity of our country.
“You have to pay attention to your community”
One of the big takeaways from IP’s white paper on the state of giving in the field of visual arts was donor interest in supporting community engagement. This is one of those areas that is difficult to pin down with absolute precision because “engagement” is a somewhat relative term.
Since opening, Crystal Bridges has hosted 5.6 million visitors and nearly doubled its art collection to include over 3,500 objects with a particular focus on works by historically underrepresented artists. Crystal Bridges has featured over 80 exhibits, many of which have toured the country, and hosted over 300,000 school children on field trips through the Walker School Tour program, which is completely free to all schools.
In other words, Walton has clearly been thinking about engagement for a long time, so I was curious to hear his thoughts on the subject.
“crystal bridges was founded with a mission to welcome all to experience the arts,” she said. “To accomplish this mission, people need to feel like they belong, that it’s a place for them, and then want to come back.” For Walton, creating this “sense of place” requires museum management to listen to the communities it serves. This means organizing innovative exhibitions to attract art lovers from around the world, providing activities for families who live nearby, and giving visitors the opportunity to stroll a nearby path or catch a musical performance.
“I could go on and on with the communities we’ve identified and the programs we’ve developed to accommodate them – from day camps for neurodiverse youth to creative connections for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia” , Walton said. “The big lesson from what we’ve learned is that you need to pay attention to your community, who you serve and who you want to serve, and what you offer to meet their needs.”
Last April, Crystal Bridges announced a 100,000 square foot expansion which will increase the size of the current building by 50%. “In these new spaces, we will have galleries to showcase more Native American art and American craftsmanship,” Walton said, “as well as more space to host school field trips, educational and outreach initiatives, programs cultural and community events.
Provide “support and encouragement”
east walton export these lessons of engagement nationwide through the Art Bridges Foundation, which provides museums with strategic support and funding so leaders can better connect with their communities. “It’s so gratifying to see the innovative programs they’ve created,” she says.
Walton noted that a partner institution, the Missoula Art Museum in Montana, has developed personal relationships with tribal communities across the state and increased access to works by contemporary Native artists. Another, the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania, supplemented an exhibition on American art and design with a quilt and oral history project, hosting a series of on-site and virtual quilt circles taught by artists. “Most museums want to engage more deeply with communities, and many just need support and encouragement to do so,” Walton said.
Increased focus on health and wellness
Walton established the Alice L. Walton Foundation in 2017 to focus on improving access to the arts, improving educational outcomes, improving health and wellness, and promoting economic opportunity. Recent work in education has focused on increasing the pool of diverse, high-quality educators, as well as supporting the development of arts education and arts integration programs.
Walton’s interest in improving health outcomes has grown over the past few years as the pandemic has made the deep-rooted inequalities throughout the health system. She is particularly drawn to what she calls a “comprehensive approach to health care, focusing on physical, mental, emotional and social well-being.” Three years ago, she founded the Whole Health Institute to advance this concept by working with health systems, employers and communities to develop and develop holistic approaches to care.
In addition, the foundation established the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine, a four-year medical degree program that integrates conventional medicine with holistic principles. At the end of June, the foundation announced the design and its location, next to the Crystal Bridges campus, with the goal of ensuring that “art and nature are woven into the care of the whole person,” Walton said. The school plans to welcome its inaugural class in 2025.
The foundation has also partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and the Washington Regional Medical System in northwest Arkansas to support the growth of health services in its region. “As with most of our work, this partnership is about access,” Walton said. “In this case, we are ensuring that residents of our region have access to world-class healthcare services, with a greater emphasis on holistic health principles.”