Few people go to Arkansas for art. Frankly, most people don't go to the Natural State at all if they can help it. But if you build a major American art museum there, will they come? Heirs to the Wal-Mart retail empire have generously endowed the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in hopes of putting its corporate hometown of Bentonville on the international cultural map just as the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum branch did for Bilbao, Spain, in the '90s.
The Crystal Bridges Museum was built on lush, hilly grounds and was designed by another star architect, Moshe Safdie. It features free admission and offers some prized and iconic pieces of American art, often arranged around larger educational or historical themes somewhat provocative in the museum's conservative, rural surroundings, such as concern for the environment or race relations. A boutique hotel is in the works, and arts organizations throughout the region are beefing up their offerings in hopes of luring tourists to this hill of dreams.
The museum is now open. Tickets are free but reservations required. Call 479-418-5700 or visit crystalbridges.org.
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