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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary Report on 2020 Efforts to Expand Outreach and Diversify the Museum

Aerial view of Crystal Bridges at dusk
A 2020 highlights video is available to view here.

Bentonville, Ark. – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Momentary report on 2020 efforts to expand outreach and diversify the museum through new initiatives, acquisitions, exhibitions, programs, as well as staff and board updates.

“In 2020, as our country navigated COVID-related challenges and grappled with racial inequities that threaten our democracy, Crystal Bridges embraced our role as a community-centered institution and committed to the ongoing work of being an anti-racist museum,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer. “With the support of local partner organizations, we mobilized staff to meet the needs of those most vulnerable in our community, expanded access to art with the opening of the Momentary, our new satellite contemporary art space, developed more online programs and resources, and shared the power of art to promote social change and champion diversity.”

After closing in March due to COVID-19 and re-opening in June, the Momentary and Crystal Bridges put new safety guidelines in place and implemented a ticketing system to limit capacity for social distancing. The temporary exhibitions, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…  at Crystal Bridges and State of the Art 2020  at both the museum and the Momentary were extended after re-opening. Both venues focused on virtual programs with 12,000 total attendees for Crystal Bridges and 13,000 attendees for the Momentary. Crystal Bridges and the Momentary reached nearly 5 million total video views across channels. Crystal Bridges welcomed 353,000 visitors (compared to 700,000 visitors in 2019) while the Momentary saw nearly 91,000 visitors on-site, including roughly 14,000 guests who attended opening weekend activities (February 21-23).

“We believe in the power of art, especially contemporary art that speaks to these difficult times, allowing us to come together to have important conversations,” said Lieven Bertels, director of the Momentary. “Whether through community events, virtual concerts, or exhibitions, we know art can be a tool for reflection, inspiration, and activism.”


Expanding Accessing and Addressing Community Needs

As an art organizations focused on access, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary provide extensive offerings online. When the venues closed in March, both locations prioritized creating more online content and enhancing digital resources. Content included 360 tours, VR experiences, a virtual State of the Art 2020 Summit, weekly music playlistsaudio guides and video tours through the galleries and grounds, #CBfromHome activities for families, free (virtual) school field trips, and other educational tools.

Shortly after the closures, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary partnered with 100 different organizations and schools to identify community needs. Since then, 28,000 meals, 6,600 food boxes, 1,000 house-cleaning supply kits, and 500 personal-care kits have been distributed to families and individuals around the region, each paired with an art experience.

Beginning in March, the education team at Crystal Bridges developed different kinds of Art Kits that included art lessons and art supplies focused on a specific theme, and instructions in English and Spanish. Nearly 6,000 social connecting kits and 19,500 creativity kits have been distributed. These kits were designed to bridge the gap for youth or people in vulnerable communities who lack access to enriching creative outlets due to COVID-related cancellations, quarantining, and inequities.

Graphical report of Crystal Bridges public program performance

In total, more than 85,700 food, personal care, and art kits and boxes were distributed in 2020 to schools, individuals, and community organizations across Northwest Arkansas. Read the detailed report on community engagement efforts.

The Social Connecting Campaign was another COVID-response project created to foster connections with isolated individuals. With the help of nine regional artists who designed postcards inspired by the word TOGETHER, visitors and staff wrote encouraging notes on the postcards. Crystal Bridges and the Momentary then delivered 6,000 postcards and art kits to 22 sites including local hospitals and assisted care facilities with the goal of providing joy and hope. Each artist also created a large mural of their design that travelled around Northwest Arkansas medical facilities, assisted living facilities, social service organizations, and apartment complexes as an outdoor, socially distanced, exhibition.

“The response from all involved has been overwhelming, and it’s brought joy to the lives of those most affected by this pandemic,” Ayoola Carleton, Assistant Director of Research, UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. “This [Social Connecting] campaign demonstrates the excellence, generosity, and strong sense of service found here in Northwest Arkansas.”

“We have supported Northwest Arkansans during this crisis and had resources such as museum space, staff, culinary expertise, and wonderful community partners to help identify key areas and make connections with vulnerable, isolated groups,” said Marissa Reyes, chief education officer, Crystal Bridges. “The response has opened a new world of engagement possibilities for us, allowing us to focus on equity and expand and evolve what COVID-19 forced into action. We remain committed to building upon these new strategies, and to actively changing the ways we partner with communities and artists. The next phase in our work will include strategies in neighborhoods and communities, an in-depth partnership project between the museum, local artists, and social service agencies, and more collaborations with communities in order to expand the voices and perspectives in the museum.”

A Look Back at our Efforts to Diversify the Museum and Collection

In addition to exhibitions such as Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal…, State of the Art 2020, Nick Cave: Until, Ansel Adams In Our Time, and Companion Species, in 2020 Crystal Bridges actively acquired works for the museum’s collection by artists of all backgrounds to reflect broad and inclusive American stories..

The museum’s 100+ new acquisitions included 31 artworks by 28 State of the Art 2020 artists including Paul Stephen Benjamin, JooYoung Choi, Elisa Harkins, Suchitra Mattai, Anthony Sonnenberg, Larry Walker, and more; 31 modern and contemporary artworks by 25 Native American artists from the Bruce Hartman collection, Mazda (1970), an early drape painting by the renowned artist Sam Gilliam; Martin’s Cincuentañera (2018) by contemporary artist Shizu Saldamando, an important figure in Los Angeles’ Latinx, activist, queer, and punk communities; Anne Lemanski’s Tigris T-I (2018) featured in the upcoming exhibition Crafting America; and many more new acquisitions.

“Crystal Bridges’ collection includes some of the finest achievements in American art from the seventeenth century to today. Our curatorial team will continue to acquire outstanding works to add to the collection—especially by artists underrepresented in history as part of our commitment to develop an even more expansive and inclusive collection,” said Austen Barron Bailly, chief curator, Crystal Bridges. “We’re always looking for ways to convey evolving and new traditions and directions in American art, embrace new perspectives, and create a sense of belonging for our visitors. To advance all of these efforts, we are expanding our team in 2021 to include curators of Native American art and Craft.”

Crystal Bridges and the Momentary supported the Black Lives Matter movement and highlighted how art can activate change. See our statement from this summer. Since then, there has been an increased focus on staff training with the IDEALS Institute of the University of Arkansas to address the institutions’ collective biases, develop a roadmap for anti-racism efforts, and equip the team with the tools to champion diversity. Crystal Bridges and the Momentary have a newly formed internal Anti-Racist Coalition to help identify issues and lead change within the organization. One outcome is the development of a new position that will focus solely on the museum’s diversification efforts.

The Director of Inclusion and Belonging will be committed to advancing the institution’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, moving the museum and the Momentary forward with new policies, processes, and programs. The hiring of this new position will build upon the institutions past efforts that began in earnest in 2015 when the Andrew Mellon Report was published. The insights in this report inspired Crystal Bridges’ recommitment to diversity and inclusion, with a focus on diversifying the museum’s Board of Directors and art collection, welcoming thought-provoking exhibitions and artists to the space, offering programs that reflect and include diverse communities, and opening the Momentary, a satellite contemporary art space that creates more access to art and creative opportunities.

Artist Hank Willis Thomas is the newest addition to the museum’s Board of Directors, appointed in June and attended his first board meeting in November, 2020. With an artistic career that spans 20+ years and a body of work that speaks to social justice and community belonging, Thomas will be an integral voice in the direction and vision of the museum. In early 2020, Thomas inspired the museum’s For Freedoms Community Conversations, a collaborative program that encouraged space-making for art and civic engagement.

Bigelow adds, “While we’re developing our road map for a more inclusive future, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary remain committed to fostering social connections, maintaining the safety of our visitors and staff, being a resource for education and discourse, and fighting racial inequities. Into 2021, we will expand our digital and physical footprint, focus on the power of art to build community, and to create environments where transformative moments are possible.”

For news updates, follow Crystal Bridges on the BlogFacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube, and LinkedIn. Follow the Momentary on the BlogFacebook, InstagramTwitterYouTube, and LinkedIn.

About Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature. Since opening in 2011, the museum has welcomed 5 million visitors, with no cost for admission. The collection spans five centuries of American masterworks from colonial to current day and is enhanced by temporary exhibitions. The museum is nestled on 120 acres of Ozark landscape and was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. A rare Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house was preserved and relocated to the museum grounds in 2015. Crystal Bridges offers public programs including lectures, performances, classes, and teacher development opportunities. Some 280,000 school children have participated in the Willard and Pat Walker School Visit program, which provides educational experiences for school groups at no cost to the schools. Additional museum amenities include a restaurant, gift store, library, and 5 miles of art and walking trails. In February 2020, the museum opened a satellite contemporary art space in downtown Bentonville called the Momentary (507 SE E Street). For more information, visit The museum is located at 600 Museum Way, Bentonville, Arkansas 72712.

About the Momentary

The Momentary is a new contemporary art space in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas, for visual, performing, and culinary arts. The mission of the Momentary is to champion contemporary art’s role in everyday life and explore the unfolding story of contemporary American arts in an international context by actively commissioning and exhibiting outstanding works that explore new ideas and inspire action. The Momentary was founded by the Walton family, based on the vision of Tom, Olivia, and Steuart Walton. The Walton Family Foundation is supporting this project as a way to enhance the quality of life in Northwest Arkansas. The Momentary is a satellite to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Alice Walton. The Momentary welcomes all with free general admission. Additional offerings include an artist-in-residence program, culinary experiences including an Onyx Coffee Lab, indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, an outdoor festival space, and a gift store. For more information, visit The Momentary is located at 507 SE E Street, Bentonville, Arkansas 72712. The Momentary’s Founding Funders are Walton Family Foundation, Walmart, RØDE Microphones, The Coca-Cola Company, Tyson Family Foundation, and Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation.