Crystal Bridges Museum (www.crystalbridges.org) is far more than the crown jewel of Bentonville, Arkansas. It’s the art museum Walmart built. The world’s largest retailer has created its own work of art with this new world-class museum.
Crystal Bridges began with a greatdream and an even greater question. The location in Bentonville is hundreds of miles from the nearest national museum—if they built it, would anyone come? With over 655,000 visitors in their first year, the museum has been a success beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
What makes it such a find for families and children—beyond the children’s activities and exhibits—is the 120 acres and 3.5 miles of trails in the vast Ozark landscape. It’s an experience so rich that Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, agreed to provide a grant to cover the cost of general admission so that everyone could experience the museum’s grandeur and beauty.
Crystal Bridges opened to the public on November 11, 2011, just a few months after Walmart announced their plans to cover general admission fees for all visitors, allowing families of all income levels to experience a world-class museum and making art accessible to all.
“One of the greatest challenges for museums today is finding ways to remove barriers to community participation, including admission charges,” said Don Bacigalupi, Crystal Bridges executive director. “Walmart has shown extraordinary vision and foresight in funding access to the museum, providing all that Crystal Bridges has to offer to all people at no cost.”
While you may not be able to easily or affordably visit the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this breathtaking museum—and its exceptional collection—is just a short drive away and well worth the trip.
A Superb Collection
Though visitors come to Crystal Bridges to enjoy the artwork inside, the building itself is unique and beautiful. Created by architect and urban designer Moshe Safdie, the museum has a glass and copper bridge design centered around two ponds, which are fed by a spring on the museum grounds. The result is a striking contrast of modern material and pristine nature.
The museum has 217,000 square feet of gallery space and is home to a superb collection of American art, highlighting both masterworks and lesser-known gems, ranging from the colonial era to contemporary work. With a permanent collection that encompasses five centuries of American art, guests can view works such as Norman Rockwell’s iconic Rosie the Riveter, Warhols, Cassatts, O’Keeffes and many other recognizable pieces. The museum has also launched a series of changing exhibitions, promising guests a new experience on every visit.
The museum is open Mondays, Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00am-6:00pm, and Wednesdays and Fridays 11:00am-9:00pm. It is closed every Tuesday, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Hands-On Opportunities for Families
Crystal Bridges also offers many opportunities for families. Children of all ages can interact with art and even create their own pieces in the Experience Art Studio. You’ll also find games, toys, computer activities and other art-related items that can be touched, held, moved and used. It is also the perfect opportunity for children to create handmade souvenirs of their visit.
The museum offers many events for kids, teens and families throughout the year. If you have young children (ages 2-5) plan your visit for a Preschool Playdate day. These days include a performance geared toward young children in the Great Hall, followed by activities centered on a specific theme or collection throughout the event.
These special events do draw more visitors but are worth the crowds. Check the events calendar on the website when planning your visit to take advantage of the events that will best suit your family.
If you want to explore on your own but you don’t know where to start, look for the Family Guide brochure or a Family Art Tote in the main lobby. These tools will help you find ways to actively include your children in your visit.
Tour Your Way
Several options are available to take a guided tour of the museum. For those who want to move at their own pace, Crystal Bridges has a free app offering a self-guided audio tour. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can check one out at no cost at Guest Services. These tours vary in length, so you can choose the ones that best fit your schedule.
Free public drop-in tours on a number of topics are held daily. Be sure to check the museum’s website for information as tours vary seasonally. Guided group tours are also available.
Along with the vast permanent collection, Crystal Bridges also hosts temporary exhibits throughout the year. Some of these exhibits require paid tickets and often sell out, so it is recommended to purchase these online prior to your visit.
There may be a slight wait for entrance to the special exhibits, so inquire about the availability of children’s guides to share information with your child prior to entering the exhibit. You can view the temporary exhibit schedule on the museum’s website.
Food Your Kids Will Love
After a few hours at Crystal Bridges you may find yourself in need of something to eat. The museum restaurant, Eleven, has a menu full of scrumptious goodies to fill you up, appeal to your children and get you ready for the rest of your visit. Lunch is served from 11:00am to 2:30pm daily. The chefs use fresh ingredients from local farmers’ markets vegetarian and gluten-free options are available. If are looking for a quicker snack or meal, the museum’s coffee bar serves drinks, quick lunch specials, and amazing baked goodies from a local French bakery. Full lunch and dinner menus, as well as information about special dining events, are available on the museum’s website.
Trails to Refresh the Spirit
The grounds at Crystal Bridges are a breathtaking way to refresh your mind and spirit. Crystal Bridges has six different trails that cover more than more than three miles of the museum grounds. Open during daylight hours, these paths wind through the hills and trees and are a relaxing way to spend part of your visit. If you park in the first parking lot as you enter the museum grounds, begin your visit with a short walk on the Orchard Trail. This paved trail is lined with tall trees that offer shade on the hot days of summer and pop with color throughout the fall.
Additional trails vary in length and paving material, but all have artwork along their routes. A description of each trail is available online to help you decide which ones will best suit your needs—there is something for walkers, hikers, bikers, strollers and wheelchairs.
Getting to Bentonville
Bentonville is approximately three-and-one-half hours from Oklahoma City. Take the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa and then follow I-44 East to US-412 West. Continue on 412 West into Arkansas. (Part of this road will be the Cherokee Turnpike, so be prepared for tolls.) Take I-540 North and look for Exit 88 in Bentonville. Make a left turn onto Central Avenue and follow it as it curves until you reach NE J Street. Make a right onto J and then a left onto Museum Way.
If this drive is too long for your family to make without some stops, you will pass through Tulsa, Siloam Springs, and Springdale on the way, so there are plenty of opportunities to get out and stretch your legs. You can also travel west on I-40 until you reach I-540 North just west of Van Buren, Arkansas, but this will add about half an hour to your travel time.
Regardless of how you get there, be sure to visit the Cyrstal Bridges—it is quickly becoming one of the nation’s leading cultural institutions. And thanks to Walmart, this priceless opportunity won’t cost a thing.