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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Celebrates 10 Years of Expanded Arts Access in the Heartland

art, architecture, nature 10 years logo

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will celebrate its 10th birthday next month and, along with it, 10 years of expanded access to the arts in the Heartland.

Since its opening, Crystal Bridges has nearly doubled its art collection to include over 3,500 objects with a specific focus on acquiring works by artists underrepresented in art history. The museum has presented more than 80 exhibitions, organizing several original exhibitions that have toured across the country. And perhaps its most significant achievement: The museum has welcomed over 300,000 schoolchildren on field trips through the Walker School Tour Program, which is completely free for all schools.

“We opened on November 11, 2011 with a mission of welcoming all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer. “A decade in, we’re embracing what it means to be a museum in the 21st century with a focus on community and creating a space of belonging.”

A Decade of Welcoming All

Since Crystal Bridges opened on 11/11/11, some 5.6 million visitors have come through the doors, while some 4 million have enjoyed the beauty of the five miles of trails around the museum. During this decade, Crystal Bridges has offered a place to enjoy a unique blend of art, nature, and architecture on 120 acres of Ozark forest.

Founded by philanthropist and arts patron Alice Walton, who chairs the museum’s board of directors, Crystal Bridges welcomes all with free admission, and visitors have come from all 50 states and around the globe.

“Crystal Bridges was founded on the belief that art should be for everyone, whether you live in a metropolitan city on the coast or in a small town in the Heartland,” says Walton. “Access to art is access to history—the stories of our country through the eyes of its artists. It has the power to help us challenge conventional thinking, bridge divides and problem-solve in ways we never imagined. It is the joy of a lifetime to create that access in a place that has inspired my family for generations.”

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the 200,000-square-foot museum has also developed a strong architectural story that now extends to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bachman-Wilson House and R. Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome.

In its first decade, Crystal Bridges’ impact was showcased through significant achievements:

  • 2011
    • Crystal Bridges opens on November 11.
    • Soon after opening, school field trip programs were created at no cost to schools and have since brought nearly 300,000 children to the museum for free K-12 school tours.
  • 2012
    • The largest study of its kind was conducted to determine the impact of school field trips to the museum.
    • By the end of the museum’s first year, attendance exceeded 600,000—more than double the original projection.
  • 2013
    • The results of the school field trip study concluded that a museum field trip yielded increases in critical thinking, recall, tolerance, empathy, and cultural interest among K-12 students.
  • 2014
    • State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now debuts, the result of curators traveling to communities large and small throughout the US to discover artists whose work has not yet been fully recognized on a national level. The exhibition featured 227 works by 100+ artists from around the country, garnering national attention.
  • 2015
    • Moved from its original location in New Jersey in order to preserve it, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bachman-Wilson House opened to the public on Crystal Bridges’ campus.
  • 2016
    • The Distinguished Speakers program launched and brought in internationally acclaimed thought leaders in art, architecture, nature, and the culinary arts.
    • The museum received a gift of famed pianist Van Cliburn’s grand piano and launched an annual Van Cliburn Concert Series.
    • The museum awarded its first Don Tyson Prize, a $200,000 award for achievement in American art, to the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • 2017
    • The museum opened a new elevator tower which enhanced the opportunity to showcase art indoors and outdoors. Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest opened and became the highest-attended exhibition ever.
  • 2018
    • The museum re-installed its Early American Art Galleries to tell a more inclusive story, adding Native American, folk, and Spanish Colonial objects, contemporary works, and bilingual
  • 2019
    • Crystal Bridges launched North Forest Lights, a multi-year, outdoor, nighttime attraction featuring light-and-sound installations that bring the soul of the forest to life. North Forest Lights was created and produced by Montreal-based multimedia and entertainment studio Moment Factory.
  • 2020
    • The Momentary, a satellite contemporary art space to Crystal Bridges, opened in downtown Bentonville on 2/22/20 with a focus on visual, performing, and culinary arts.
    • At the beginning of the pandemic, Crystal Bridges and the Momentary, along with volunteers and nine local artists, worked together to develop a social connecting campaign. Using artist-designed postcards and art kits to spread messages of hope, the campaign included a traveling exhibition with 22 stops to hospitals and patient-care facilities around Northwest Arkansas.
    • Crystal Bridges and the Momentary developed, packaged, and delivered 12,000 art kits with projects and supplies, 28,050 meals, 6,615 food boxes, 1,022 cleaning supply kits, and 500 personal care kits for community members in need.

Looking into the Future

As Northwest Arkansas increases access to quality-of-life amenities, the museum is excited to activate the building and grounds in new ways. Crystal Bridges announced earlier this year an  expansion to add 100,000 square-feet of space, a new playscape, programmable parking deck, and more.

Additionally, the campus of Crystal Bridges is welcoming new neighbors:

  • Whole Health Institute and the Art Bridges Foundation will be housed on the museum’s campus with an estimated completion date in 2023.
  • Convergence will be a robust, outdoor, family play space inspired by arts, science, nature, and design, inclusive for guests of all ages.
  • A new parking deck will provide 800 free parking spots for visitors.

Crystal Bridges will continue to push the boundaries of expectations in 2022 with three temporary exhibitions:

  • The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse – March 12 to July 25, 2022
  • Architecture at Home – May 7 to November 7, 2022
  • Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour – September 10, 2022 to January 30, 2023

Cheers to 10 Years

Crystal Bridges will “Cheers to 10 Years” with four days of special offerings and free events during its anniversary weekend: Thursday, November 11 through Sunday, November 14. Programming will include gallery talks, performances, a museum-wide Family Day, specialty beverages, a giveaway contest, and free admission to the temporary exhibition In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting.

Visit the calendar for the latest information on programs. For a complete list of current exhibitions, visit here. For news updates, follow Crystal Bridges on the Blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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 more than 5 million visitors, with no cost for admission. Crystal Bridges was founded in 2005 as a non-profit charitable organization by arts patron and chair of the museum’s board of directors, Alice Walton. The collection spans five centuries of American masterworks from early American 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.