Plan: No money for arts center
Foundation won’t fund new location
BENTONVILLE — The Walton Family Foundation’s 2020 plan doesn’t include money for a large- scale performing arts center in Bentonville, according to Karen Minkel, home region program director.
Foundation leaders have said they did studies to identify strengths and prioritize projects to fill cultural gaps in Northwest Arkansas. The research revealed young professionals want a larger variety of cultural options in a downtown setting, Minkel wrote in a blog post published on the foundation’s website today.
“How does this impact our grantmaking?” she wrote. “We are capitalizing on opportunities identified by supporting a robust mix of cultural offerings set in vibrant downtowns across the region. It also means the foundation is not considering funding a new performing arts center in Bentonville or elsewhere in Northwest Arkansas with our current 2020 Strategic Plan.”
Minkel went on to say the foundation will work with Northwest Arkansas organizations to support “culturally relevant programming that reflects the diversity of our region.”
Talk of a performing arts center in or near Bentonville’s downtown square started in 2010 when the Walton Arts Center board voted for it to be one of two planned expansions.
Buddy Philpot, the then-executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, told Walton Art Center officials the foundation
would provide a lead gift for an expansion only if it were built in Bentonville.
“We are familiar with the Walton Family Foundation’s 2020 Strategic Plan and fully support their expansive vision,” Peter Lane, Walton Arts Center president and CEO, said in a statement. “Walton Arts Center has just completed its $23 million renovation and expansion with their support. Our immediate goal now is to spend the next few years maximizing the opportunities of this renovation.”
The center completed a 9,000-square-foot expansion of the Fayetteville center in November. The expansion included a lobby renovation, a new garden room, an extra catering kitchen, power connections for outside events and remodeling the Starr Theater, allowing events to be held simultaneously in it and the Baum Walker Hall.
The Walton Family Foundation gave the largest private donation, $5 million, for the expansion project.
“We’re tired,” Darcy Ballew, vice president of communications for Walton Arts Center, said with a chuckle, referring to the completion of the expansion. She reiterated that a center in Bentonville wasn’t an “immediate goal.”
The Bentonville expansion wasn’t in Visit Bentonville’s plan, yet, said Kalene Griffith, Visit Bentonville president and CEO.
The regional arts and culture efforts are collaborative and work to provide residents and visitors a variety of experiences throughout the area, she said, adding there are so many positive activities happening regionally, it’s best for cities to compliment each other by addressing gaps rather than to duplicate services.
“That’s only going to make all of us more successful,” Griffith said.
Other area performing arts spaces are in the works and receiving Walton Family Foundation money.
The new 51,500-squarefoot TheatreSquared building at West Avenue and Spring Street in Fayetteville is scheduled to open in 2019.
The Walton Family Foundation selected it to receive money through the Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, which seeks to provide high-quality design of public spaces in Benton and Washington counties.
TheatreSquared, a professional theater company, rents a 175- seat space in Nadine Baum Studios. The new theater will have 275 seats.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art plans transform
the former Kraft cheese plant on Southeast E Street in Bentonville into a contemporary art venue with performing art space. The building is about 63,000 square feet.
“The new arts venue will be a multi-disciplinary space where different forms of visual and performing arts converge,” Beth Bobbitt, museum public relations manager, said in an email. “We are still in the planning phase and don’t have specifics on the design; though we do envision performances and a role for local partners such as Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared.”
The venue is scheduled to open in 2019.
The Walton Family Foundation will support the project as part of its effort to enhance the region’s quality of life, officials have said, also adding there will likely be a mix of money sources from sponsors and donors to community collaborations and memberships.
The Walton Family Foundation gave TheatreSquared $ 1.27 million, the Walton Arts Center $6.95 million and Crystal Bridges $1 million in grants in 2015, according to its annual report. The 2016 report isn’t yet available.