Night at the mu­seum

Mu­seum di­rec­tor Don Baci­galupi gives the key­note lec­ture

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS -

Nes­tled in the foothills of the Ozarks, the once-sleepy town of Bentonville, Arkansas, home to Wal-Mart founder Sam Wal­ton, might not be where you’d ex­pect to en­counter a world-class mu­seum like Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art. The mu­seum is si­t­u­ated on 120 acres of woods, ponds, and wa­ter­ways. The ar­chi­tec­ture, de­signed by Moshe Safdie, com­ple­ments the sur­round­ing land­scape, which of­fers visi­tors three and a half miles of hik­ing trails with seat­ing ar­eas built into the hill­sides, along with op­por­tu­ni­ties to view mon­u­men­tal sculp­tural works by artists such as James Tur­rell and Leo Vil­lareal. The mu­seum was de­vel­oped with ma­jor fund­ing from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Wal­ton and the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. It had al­ready amassed a first-rate col­lec­tion of Amer­i­can art, ac­quir­ing works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Mars­den Hart­ley, and other prom­i­nent Amer­i­can artists, but was still in the con­struc­tion phase when Don Baci­galupi was ap­pointed di­rec­tor. As a for­mer di­rec­tor of the Toledo Mu­seum of Art in Ohio and the San Diego Mu­seum of Art in Cal­i­for­nia, Baci­galupi had a for­mi­da­ble arts back­ground to draw upon, but Crys­tal Bridges was dif­fer­ent in that it was not an es­tab­lished mu­seum. He was head­ing into new ter­ri­tory. Baci­galupi, the newly ap­pointed di­rec­tor of the (Ge­orge) Lu­cas Mu­seum of Nar­ra­tive Art in Chicago, sched­uled for com­ple­tion by 2018, presents his talk “Build­ing the 21st Cen­tury Mu­seum: Crys­tal Bridges and Be­yond” at the New Mexico History Mu­seum on Satur­day, July 11. The talk is the key­note lec­ture for the Art Santa Fe in­ter­na­tional art fair.

Pasatiempo: Was Crys­tal Bridges de­vel­oped around a key col­lec­tion be­long­ing to the Wal­tons?

Don Baci­galupi: Alice Wal­ton and her pri­vate col­lect­ing were the in­spi­ra­tion for Crys­tal Bridges. At open­ing, the mu­seum in­cluded more than 80 works from her col­lec­tion in the inau­gu­ral in­stal­la­tion, among more than 400 other works of the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion. The mu­seum presents Amer­i­can works of art of five cen­turies, the 17th through the 21st. Alice Wal­ton and her broth­ers were raised in Bentonville and their par­ents’ busi­ness was be­gun and grown in the town. The Wal­ton fam­ily has con­tin­ued to pro­vide phil­an­thropic sup­port in the re­gion to give back to the com­mu­nity of their up­bring­ing. Pasa: Where did Crys­tal Bridges get its name from?

Baci­galupi: Alice Wal­ton en­vi­sioned the name of the mu­seum, de­rived from the nat­u­ral spring that fu­els the cam­pus’s wa­ter­ways — Crys­tal Spring — and the ar­chi­tec­tural bridges that ar­chi­tect Moshe Safdie de­signed for the mu­seum.

Pasa: What was it that drew you to the pro­ject? What was the chal­lenge in de­vel­op­ing an art mu­seum in a small city like Bentonville?

Baci­galupi: The pro­ject was clearly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to work with a founder to cre­ate a new mu­seum from scratch. Be­ing the first art mu­seum in the re­gion, it was im­por­tant to un­der­stand the needs of the re­gional com­mu­ni­ties and of­fer a wide ar­ray of pro­gram­ming and points of en­try for di­verse au­di­ences. Dur­ing my en­tire ca­reer, I’ve been mo­ti­vated to find ways to make art more ac­ces­si­ble and rel­e­vant in the lives of as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

Pasa: What did you hope the ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ence of the visi­tor would be like at Crys­tal Bridges?

Baci­galupi: We em­pha­sized a very wel­com­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for all visi­tors, en­sur­ing that first-time mu­se­um­go­ers would be com­fort­able and en­thused about vis­it­ing. We also wanted to en­sure that the ex­pe­ri­ence would be ex­cel­lent and in­vig­o­rat­ing. Given the suc­cesses of at­ten­dance, we felt that these ap­proaches suc­ceeded.

Pasa: When you ac­cepted the po­si­tion of di­rec­tor of the forth­com­ing Lu­cas Mu­seum, did you feel you had ac­com­plished what you had set out to do as di­rec­tor of Crys­tal Bridges? Baci­galupi: I cer­tainly sensed that I had ac­com­plished what I had come there to do, and I left a team that I had as­sem­bled and men­tored and had enor­mous con­fi­dence in. I was asked to re­main on the mu­seum’s board and Art Com­mit­tee, so I have a unique van­tage on its con­tin­u­ing de­vel­op­ment. The mu­seum is an enor­mous suc­cess and in a very healthy and well­re­spected state. — Michael Abatemarco

Don Baci­galupi presents Art Santa Fe’s key­note lec­ture, “Build­ing the 21st Cen­tury Mu­seum: Crys­tal Bridges and Be­yond,” on Satur­day, July 11, at 6:30 p.m., at the New Mexico History Mu­seum (114 Lin­coln Ave., 505-476-5200). Tick­ets, $10, are avail­able from Tick­ets Santa Fe at the Len­sic (www.tick­et­santafe.org, 505-988-1234) and at the door.

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