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Crystal Bridges founder Alice Walton's new venture to expand art's reach

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Photographs by Jason Ivester

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art founder Alice Walton is shown with (from left) Greg Penner, Jim Walton and Rob Walton in this June 2, 2017 photo.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art founder Alice Walton has established a nonprofit foundation to focus on sharing American art across the country through collaborations with museums and institutions.

Art Bridges, which was announced Wednesday, will develop and fund exhibitions to expand access to American art. Walton's new venture is separate from the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville but is aligned with the museum's mission.

Walton said in a statement that she created Art Bridges because the country's "significant works of art should be available for all to see and enjoy." The statement did not mention how long the foundation has been in the works.

"Outstanding artworks are in museum vaults and private collections; let's make that art available to everyone, and provide a way to experience these cultural treasures," Walton said in the statement.

Success will require collaboration among museums of various sizes, including large ones with a lot of collections and smaller ones that want to display a wider range of art for its visitors.

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Art Bridges will support projects that range from loaning a single object to fully developed exhibitions. The organization will help pull together art from museums, private collections and foundations and works that have been collected by Art Bridges. The Art Bridges collection is different from the permanent collection at the Crystal Bridges museum, which Walton founded in 2011.

"I think it takes what we've been doing at Crystal Bridges and thinks about it in a very specific, nationwide perspective," Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow said about Walton's new venture. "It takes it to another level. I think it's an interesting, experimental concept."

Art Bridges has lent John Sloan's Bleecker Street to the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, N.Y., and Gilbert Stuart's William Smith to the Juniata College Museum of Art in Huntingdon, Pa. The foundation has lent works to other museums, as well, including the Amarillo Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, the Dallas Museum of Art and the El Paso Museum of Art, all in Texas.

The organization said it is working on future projects with several other notable institutions like Crystal Bridges, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Solomon R. Guggenhiem Museum in New York.

Bigelow said the museum has previously shown its willingness to lend items to other institutions. Art Bridges has contracted with Crystal Bridges to provide administrative, collection care, education and outreach, and curatorial expertise for projects.

Elizabeth Glassman, chief executive officer of the Terra Foundation for American Art, in a news release described Art Bridges as a "paradigm-shifting initiative." She said in an interview later that collection-rich museums, often located in metropolitan areas, don't have opportunities to work with museums in small or midsized markets. But Art Bridges will better open those possibilities.

"This is an effort to change that paradigm that exists now and to enrich the conversation about American art across all audiences, and to make those works of art accessible to audiences in museums that might not have access to those," Glassman said.

The Terra Foundation is partnering with Art Bridges on a six-year initiative designed to develop and nurture collection-sharing networks. The venture -- called Terra Art Bridges -- will provide funding to institutions across the country to aid partnerships that will span several years, giving museums of different sizes a chance to more closely work together on projects.

Art Bridges also has partnered with the American Federation of Arts, a nonprofit that develops traveling art exhibitions and education programs globally. Currently, the two organizations are working together to take Selections from the Studio Museum in Harlem to six museums, including the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C.

"The beauty of Crystal Bridges is that you were able to -- through Alice's vision -- bring these amazing artworks to this area of the country that doesn't really have access," American Federation of Arts Director Pauline Willis said. "What we see with this program and why it's so important, is that you'll be able to duplicate that in communities across the country."

The El Paso Museum of Art in Texas is already benefiting from the collaboration created by Art Bridges, receiving Richard Prince's Nurse Elsa on loan as part of the initiative.

Director Victoria Ramirez said the opportunity to put new pieces like Nurse Elsa on display and build educational programming around them is important for the community and museum staff.

Funding from Art Bridges is key, as well. Without it, Ramirez said, the El Paso Museum of Art would probably not have been able to participate so quickly in the art-sharing initiative.

"When you live in a community that has a large art museum or has many art museums, you always have the chance to see different kinds of art all the time," Ramirez said. "But there are other communities that don't have those kinds of resources.

"For example, here in El Paso, we are the only accredited art museum within 250 miles. So for us, when we bring in exhibitions or when we bring in loans, it's really something new and special for the community to see."

A Section on 09/14/2017

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