Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces board leadership transition
November 22-28, 2021
Walmart heiress Alice Walton announced Nov. 16 that she is stepping down as chairperson of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, the iconic northwest Arkansas museum that first opened a decade ago. She will be replaced by Olivia Walton, a longtime journalist and Crystal Bridges board member who is married to Tom Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton
In 2005, Alice Walton founded Crystal Bridges as a non-profit charitable organization for all to enjoy. She gifted her art collection to form the basis of the museum’s collection, and the Walton family gifted 120-acres of land in downtown Bentonville as the site for the museum. Crystal Bridges opened to the public on Nov. 11, 2011. Since opening, it has welcomed more than 5.6 million visitors from around the globe, with no cost for admission.
Walton, who has held the chairperson role since the museum’s opening, is the daughter of Walmart founder Sam and Helen Walton with a net worth of $64.6 billion, according to Forbes.com. She said she will now transition into the position of board member.
“I’m delighted to have Olivia step into this leadership role,” said Alice Walton. “Over the past several years, I’ve founded new organizations focused on the arts as well as health and well-being, and I’d like to focus more fully on my board chair roles at these entities. Olivia and I have worked together closely for the past several years. Not only does she have a lifelong interest in and passion for the arts, but she has also gained significant experience through her leadership of the Momentary as well as serving as a Crystal Bridges board member. She’ll be an excellent leader of the museum’s board and will capably guide Crystal Bridges into its next decade.”
According to a news release issued by Crystal Bridges, Olivia Walton joined the museum’s board in 2019. In 2020, after Crystal Bridges opened a satellite location, she guided the opening of the Momentary, the museum’s satellite contemporary arts organization, as co-founder and chair of the Momentary council. Founded by the Walton family and based on the vision of Tom, Olivia and Steuart Walton, Momentary focuses on contemporary visual and performing arts.
In her new role, the younger Walton heiress will continue as chair of the Momentary in addition to assuming her new role as chairperson of the Crystal Bridges board.
“I am a big believer in Alice’s vision to create access for all and to welcome all,” said Olivia Walton. “I’m excited to continue our work to expand our physical space, expand our definition of art, and ensure that visitors feel a sense of belonging at both Crystal Bridges and the Momentary.”
“Crystal Bridges and the Momentary are wonderful gifts to our community, and Alice and Olivia Walton’s leadership have guided these institutions to become what they are today,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges’ executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer. “Alice has brought a vision for art in the Heartland to life, and Olivia is carrying that forward as these organizations continue to serve our region and country.”
Earlier this year, Chrystal Bridges officials unveiled plans for an expansion that will increase the size of the current facilities by 50%, adding nearly 100,000 square feet to the 200,000-square-foot facility. Envisioned to support Crystal Bridges’ commitment to free access to art for all, the expansion will allow the museum to showcase its growing collection and welcome more visitors to experience the power of art, in an inclusive environment. The new space will also increase capacity for presenting art and exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming, and community events.
“It’s wonderful to see how our community, our region, and travelers to Bentonville from across the nation and around the world have embraced Crystal Bridges, and enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by art, nestled in nature, and immersed in Moshe Safdie’s architecture,” said Walton said in April. “With the number of visitors we welcome annually, it’s timely to enlarge our building and make sure more people can access these offerings. Having Safdie Architects expand on its original Crystal Bridges design with this new addition will create a unified experience for enjoying art, nature, and architecture.”
The expansion project is currently in the design development phase with construction commencing in early 2022 with the goal of completing construction in 2024. As a precursor to the expansion, a reconfigured main lobby and courtyard, also designed by Safdie Architects, will be completed in May 2021.
Among her success in sharing masterworks of American art from its northwest Arkansas location, Alice Walton also established the Art Bridges Foundation in 2017 to expand access to American art across the nation, especially in rural and small to mid-sized communities where museums often struggle.
That same year, she founded the Alice L. Walton Foundation, which works to enhance the quality of life for individuals through providing access to offerings that improve well-being and create diverse and inclusive communities. The foundation has supported major initiatives to increase teacher diversity, expand art programs at universities and diversify museum leadership. Through this work, the foundation strives to deliver meaningful and lasting change to individuals and communities most in need.
In 2019, she established the Whole Health Institute, a non-profit organization focused on improving health and well-being for all. The institute strives to create fundamental changes in the way communities, employers, government policies and health systems work together to help individuals take charge of their health and live their fullest, most meaningful lives.
In addition to the institute, the formation of a new degree-granting non-profit Whole Health School of Medicine and Health Sciences was recently announced, as well as a joint initiative between the Alice L. Walton Foundation and Cleveland Clinic to identify ways of providing access to Cleveland Clinic’s renowned specialty care services in Northwest Arkansas.
In her role, Olivia Walton lends her voice and leadership to advocacy for the arts, childhood wellbeing and economic empowerment in America’s Heartland. In addition to her new role as board chairperson for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Olivia also serves as executive board chair of the Momentary, principal of Ingeborg Investments and is a co-founder of Heartland Summit.
In her personal philanthropy, Olivia focuses on promoting the arts as an economic driver; improving the wellbeing of children in Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas/Mississippi Delta; and women’s empowerment. Olivia leads the vision for OZ Art NWA, which supports the regional arts scene with its own collection on view throughout Bentonville and collaborates with regional and national artists to bring outdoor art to parks and trails. She also serves on the national board of directors for Teach for America.
Walton is a former national journalist for NBC News, MSNBC and as an anchor for Bloomberg Television in New York and London. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her master’s degree from the London School of Economics. She lives in Bentonville with her husband and two daughters.