Plan: No money for arts cen­ter

Foun­da­tion won’t fund new lo­ca­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MELISSA GUTE

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.

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