A planned expansion of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Northwest Arkansas has been unanimously approved by the Bentonville Planning Commission in a 7-0 vote. The decision, first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on October 22, formally paves the way for construction to begin early next year. As the museum first announced in April when the expansion plans were made public, construction was originally slated to wrap up in 2024. However, as Diane Carroll, chief communications officer for the Alice L. Walton Foundation, relayed to the Democrat-Gazette, work is now expected to conclude in October 2025.
Completion dates aside, the city’s full and enthusiastic blessing comes just weeks ahead of Crystal Bridge’s 10th anniversary—the free-admission museum first opened to the public on November 11, 2011 (11/11/11). In that time, it has welcomed more than 5 million visitors, presented 80 exhibitions, doubled its collection to include over 3,500 objects with a focus on underrepresented artists, and hosted over 300,000 schoolchildren on field trips through its Walker School Tour Program. (The museum’s first architecture exhibition, titled Architecture at Home, opens next May.)
As detailed by AN back in April, the expansion plan entails more than just a modest new gallery wing or two at prodigious collector and philanthropist Alice Walton’s Arkansas arts and culture hub. The already sprawling museum complex, which anchors a bucolic, nature trail-laced campus spanning 120 acres of Ozark forest just outside of downtown Bentonville (AKA the ancestral home of Walmart), will expand its existing footprint by 50 percent. That includes gaining 100,000 square feet of new galleries and exhibition spaces, studios and maker spaces, community- and education-dedicated areas, visitor amenities, and more. The same core design team behind the original 200,000-square-foot museum building, Safdie Architects with Buro Happold in the role of structural, facade, and MEP engineer, have returned for the expansion.
“It has been a joy to see Crystal Bridges’ enthusiastic reception by the public,” said Moshe Sadie in a statement when the expansion plans were made public this spring. “We are honored to be back and working with the museum to realize a series of new facilities which will enrich the diversity of the museum experience.”
The forthcoming expansion of the museum proper isn’t the only major project underway on the Crystal Bridges campus.
In December 2020, the museum announced plans for a standalone 75,000-square-foot mixed-use health and wellness hub that will serve as headquarters for Walton’s nonprofit Whole Health Institute as well as the Art Bridges Foundation. That building, slated to open in 2023 is designed by the Fayetteville-based Marlon Blackwell Architects, which has also overseen a number of projects at Crystal Bridges including the museum store, coffee bar, and a forthcoming six-story parking structure, expected to be completed in late 2022. That will also include programming space and other public amenities. As noted by the Democrat-Gazette, a 309,000-square-foot play area dubbed Convergence is also in the works in collaboration with the Amazeum, a neighboring children’s museum that opened in 2015. The Momentary, Crystal Bridges’ satellite space dedicated to contemporary art in downtown Bentonville, debuted in February of 2020.
In celebration of its upcoming milestone anniversary, Crystal Bridges will host a series of special performances, talks, and more as part of its four-day “Cheers to 10 Years” event from November 11 through November 14.