Wal-Mart Heiress Alice Walton Finds $800 Million More for Her Crystal Bridges Museum

Wal-Mart Heiress Alice Walton Finds $800 Million More for Her Crystal Bridges Museum
Media-shy Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton has already poured vast amounts of her own money into her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, funding the $50 million Moshe Safdie-designed project and gathering a wide-ranging collection of colonial-to-contemporary art to display in the space when it opens on November 11. Now, the Bentonville, Arkansas, museum has announced that it has received an additional $800 million endowment from the Walton Family Foundation (on whose board of directors Alice Walton sits) to fund the institution "in perpetuity."

Arkansas Business reports that the museum's director, Don Bacigalupi, has stated that $350 million of the endowment will go toward the institution's operating expenses, estimated at around $16-20 million per year. This annual allowance will, according to a statement from Crystal Bridges, place the museum "in the company of institutions such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum." The institution's acquisitions coffers will receive $325 million in padding from the endowment, while $125 million will be set aside for the future upkeep of the museum (a "rainy day fund," according to officials).

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The endowment "means Crystal Bridges will be on a sound financial footing for generations to come," Bacigalupi said in a statement. "We are in the fortunate position of having a founding donor family that understands the need for stability and sustainability going forward, and therefore has worked with us to create the base endowments upon which we will build and grow."

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Just because a new museum is bankrolled by a wealthy patron doesn't mean it will be a success, as evidenced by the massive flop of the Museo Soumaya, the pet project of the world's richest man, Carlos Slim. When that institution opened in March, Art+Auction editor-in-chief Benjamin Genocchio declared it "tragic." Yet from the start, Walton has approached the foundation of Crystal Bridges with both scholarship and taste, albeit of a rather rapacious variety.

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In reference to the latest endowment, she spoke on behalf of her family's foundation. "We seek thoughtful, strategic investments that create and strengthen partnerships with our grantees and the communities they serve," Walton said. "By investing in the endowment of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, my family has laid a foundation on which this institution can continue to grow as a resource for our community, state and nation."