Putting a world class art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas is wrong. Alice Walton can buy any piece of art she wants and she is determined to move some of the world masterpieces to Bentonville.
Slowly and methodically, Ms. Walton has paid top dollar at auction and through dealers for the best paintings, drawings and sculptures she can find by artists like Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Marsden Hartley and Charles Willson Peale.
She is certainly determined: her bid for the Durand from the library’s collection outstripped one made jointly by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art.
So Ms. Walton is outbidding the MoMa and National Gallery. If they were smart, they would just loan her some of the works they have in storage. There is a finite selection of world class art, to move it to a place where the masses cannot see it is dumb and selfish. Apparently art critics are raising a suitable uproar, as if it will do any good.
Other than an infectious and personal dislike by these writers for Ms. Walton’s approach, the barely hidden implication in their written words is that metropolitan areas like Seattle, Washington, Forth Worth, Texas, and St. Louis, Missouri — places that people will visit — are more natural and deserving destinations for high art for our public American masses outside of New York.
This is elitist nonsense on a major scale.
It’s not elitist, it’s pragmatic. Museums need to be built where the people, especially children, have access to them. Many children visit their first museum as part of a school field trip.
Bentonville’s next door neighbor, Fayetteville (population around 67,000) is the home to the 420-acre campus of the University of Arkansas (the only comprehensive, doctoral degree-granting institution in the state). Their enrollment has more than 14,600 students (more than 12,000 in undergraduate programs) and a diverse student population with 650 international students representing 86 countries.
Well, as they might say in Bentonville, Whoop-de-doo. Maybe within 150 miles they will have a couple million population? This justifies moving some of the finest art in the world to Arkansas?
It doesn’t take a futurist to predict that this area will see a major urban growth in the next few decades, and when it does, it will be grateful to the vision of Alice Walton, which is perhaps a throwback to that of the moneyed folks who a century earlier built the collections that she now shops from.
Campello argues that this area is underserved when it comes to the arts. Won’t argue with that, but Carnegie had a much better idea when he funded over 2500 libraries across the country. If Ms. Walton or her advisors had some imagination, they could come up with a better way to spend her billions to benefit more people for a longer time.