Crystal Bridges Celebrates 5 Years

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened its doors five years ago on November 11, 2011 after years of planning and construction. Since then, the museum has welcomed over 2.7 million people from all around the world.

When Crystal Bridges was proposed, annual attendance was estimated at some 150,000 to 250,000 guests. Attendance exceeded expectations from the onset, with more than 650,000 visitors in the first year and 500-600,000 in the years since. Approximately 50 percent of the visitors are new to the museum, while 50 percent are returning.

Visitors hail from all 50 states and six out of the seven continents, including places like Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Russia, Switzerland, and Zimbabwe.

Thanks to a $20 million grant in 2011 from the museum's founder and principal benefactor, Alice Walton (pictured in insert) of Walmart, visitors have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy admission to Crystal Bridges and its permanent collection, at no cost.

Below is the geographic breakdown based on 2015 attendance data:

· Arkansas: 55%

· Touch States: 25% (LA, MO, MS, OK, TN, and TX)

· National/International: 20%


The museum was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation as a non-profit private operating foundation for all to enjoy. Soon after inception, an application process was initiated to convert from private operating to public charity status. After a five-year assessment, the museum has received official notification of its public charity status.


The permanent collection spans from colonial times to the present day. Since the museum’s founding, the number of objects in the collection has grown from 1,555 to nearly 2,400. Recent highlights include Jimson Weed/ White Flower No. 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe, The Chelsea Girl by James McNeill Whistler, and Maya’s Quilt of Life by Faith Ringgold.

Soon after opening, Crystal Bridges announced American Encounters, a four-year collaboration with The Musée du Louvre, the High Museum of Art, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. This partnership was aimed at broadening appreciation for and dialogue about American art both within the U.S. and abroad.

To date, there have been 68 outgoing loans, including the museum’s beloved Jimson Weed, on loan to The Tate Modern in London as part of this year’s O’Keeffe retrospective.

The portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale is another example. It is currently on loan to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC as part of the exhibition America’s Presidents.

In addition to the collection, the museum offers a wide range of temporary exhibitions, such as the popular American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, on view in 2013. Since opening, 13 major temporary exhibitions have been on view including The Art of American Dance, on view through January 16, 2017. The highest attended exhibition in the museum’s five-year history is State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which drew a record-breaking 175,000 people.

Traveling Collection

State of the Art culminated a year-long process in which Crystal Bridges’ curatorial team logged more than 100,000 miles, crisscrossing the country to visit artists in rural communities, small towns, and urban centers. The exhibition helped increase awareness of the presence of great artists living and working in every corner of the US.

Since the debut at Crystal Bridges in 2014, two versions of this exhibition continue to travel to museums, bringing its message of inclusion and discovery to new audiences. The 2016-17 travel schedule includes the following venues:

· Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, Minn., February 18 – May 22, 2016

· Telfair Museums, Savannah, Ga., February 19 –September 4, 2016

· Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tenn., January 29 –March 26, 2017

· The Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, Tenn., May 26 – September 10, 2017

· The Mint Museum, Charlotte, N.C., April 22 – September 3, 2017


Nestled within 120 acres of beautiful Ozark landscapes, the museum’s 3.5 miles of trails attract approximately 300,000 visitors annually. In the year ahead, Crystal Bridges’ trails and grounds will become even more accessible, thanks to a new entrance on the northeast side of the museum, expected to open in spring 2017.

The entrance will include an elevator tower to the museum’s galleries and a pedestrian bridge connecting to expanded northeast trails. Other trail improvements include widening to provide better access for guests of all abilities.

During 2017, the enhanced area will serve as the venue for the first extensive outdoor exhibition. Chihuly: In the Forest opens May 27, 2017. The exhibition will feature hand blown glass sculptures sited throughout the north forest area, complemented with an extensive indoor installation throughout the museum’s temporary exhibition galleries.


The architecture of Crystal Bridges is as inspirational as the galleries, connecting visitors with art and nature. Internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie designed Crystal Bridges to complement the surrounding Ozark landscape, and in 2015, Safdie was awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). This award is considered to be the profession’s highest honor in the field of architecture, and in the press release announcing the award, Crystal Bridges was referenced as one of Moshe Safdie’s “most notable” works.

Architect Marlon Blackwell, recipient of the 2016 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, designed the museum store at Crystal Bridges to be an organic complement to the museum’s natural setting and distinctive architecture. Blackwell practices architecture in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and serves as distinguished professor and department head in the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas.

In 2013, Crystal Brides acquired a classic “Usonian” house designed by celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who also received the prestigious AIA award. Known as the Bachman-Wilson House, the structure was originally built in 1954. Crystal Bridges preserved it from its original site in danger of repeated flooding, reconstructed on the museum grounds, and opened to the public on November 11, 2015. Since then, nearly 80,000 visitors have enjoyed touring the house, free of charge.


As part of the museum’s mission to welcome all to experience the power of art and the beauty of nature, access is a central focus for Crystal Bridges. In addition to offering free admission, Crystal Bridges strives to enhance elements that give visitors a sense of belonging.

Visitors are greeted with a warm welcome and art-related materials, such as family and audio guides as well as comprehensible text and gallery labels. This focus is one that founder Alice Walton recognized as paramount to the success of Crystal Bridges.

Explained by museum founder Alice Walton, “It goes back to the root of museums. In Europe, when they first developed, museums were thought of as a place for the elite and the upper class. That tradition carried over into most of the first museums in this country. And it is still present—in the architecture, the grandeur, and the design of those original buildings—they are still kind of intimidating to most people. I knew that we wanted a place that did not have that intimidating feel.”

The museum complex includes a library, a restaurant and coffee bar, a hands-on experience art studio for kids, and since opening, has offered some 3,000 programs including art-making classes, artist talks, workshops, and performances.

In addition, a new department of access and inclusive programs has made special, targeted efforts to improve access for English language learners, adults and children with autism, deaf and hearing-impaired guests and more. These efforts, aimed to increase access for visitors with disabilities and engage diverse audiences for a more inclusive experience, will continue to grow in the years ahead.