Hey, New York, follow the Money! Bentonville, AR, is Now a New American Art Mecca
Over the years, I’ve heard it said that New Yorkers are a provincial lot. As a New Yorker myself, I would love to call foul on this criticism. Not long back, however, I witnessed this attitude in action in an unflattering way.
Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of Walmart, is also the headquarters of Collective Bias. As the company’s new president, I’ve been flying down to Arkansas monthly for a week or two to work with the team. Recently, there was news in the New York papers about Bentonville’s new attraction, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, an ambitious museum project with an $800MM endowment. The endowment (equal to that of MoMA) and the core of the $100MM museum’s extraordinary collection of American art, belongs to Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune and reportedly the third richest woman in the world. The museum opened to major local fanfare on 11/11/11 and its affect on the area is already being felt as new restaurants and hotels pop up monthly. Bentonville is now officially a destination.
It’s a pretty big deal. So it was embarrassing on a recent trip to field questions from our team about some elitist and frankly ignorant sounding rhetoric on this subject coming out of New York. Worse, from Michael Bloomberg, the mayor. The essence of the mayor’s grievance (aired in a New York Times editorial) is that this collection is mis-placed and that great art should reside in cultural meccas equal to it in stature — not in some “middle of nowhere” place in the sticks. This is just plain silly coming from a known cultural supporter like Bloomberg.
He of all people, born middle class and having climbed to the top of the business, political and social worlds through genius, hard work and great luck, should understand that for as long as there has been great art, there have been great benefactors to support it. He is one himself. New York, as a town, is no more deserving of great art than Bentonville, it just has a higher concentration of significant wealth to support it.
So my hat goes off to Alice Walton, for sharing her art collection with a projected 300,000 people this year who, by the way, may never get to New York City to see the work of Singer-Sargent or Rockwell. I am really glad to spend some time in an area rich with good food, people and fun things to do. So I invite my New York friends to join me for a glass of Joseph Drouhin Meursault 2006 at the Tusk & Trotter and a cup of organic pumpkin latte at our Starbucks here anytime.