Crystal Bridges plans expansion for more art, visitors

Emily Younker, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·3 min read

Apr. 8—BENTONVILLE, Ark. — A decade after it opened to the public, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is planning a major expansion.

The museum on Wednesday announced it will build additional space that will increase the size of its current facilities by 50%, adding nearly 100,000 square feet to showcase its growing art collection and allowing for more visitors. The new space also will increase the capacity for exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programs, and community events.

According to museum officials, design highlights include:

—A 65% increase in gallery space with two new galleries, an expansion of existing space for temporary exhibitions and new spaces for community displays.

—More educational spaces and a dedicated floor with community gathering areas, art studios, makerspaces and flexible facilities.

—A new bridge connecting two galleries that could add nontraditional space for art that is not sensitive to light. It also will feature a new cafe.

—A circular event plaza for outdoor community programs and performances.

—Continued use of regional materials such as concrete, timber and fieldstone sourced from Northwest Arkansas.

The project will begin with a reconfigured main lobby and courtyard, to be completed by next month. The full expansion is in the design development phase, with construction to begin in early 2022 and finish in 2024. Safdie Architects, which designed the existing museum to integrate art, architecture and nature, will return for the new project.

Joplin resident Sharon Beshore visits Crystal Bridges every time a new exhibit opens or when she wants to wander around among the existing collection. She said the museum is a "tremendous asset" to the Joplin area.

"Its location and their welcoming, comfortable atmosphere have created tremendous accessibility for our residents and children in Joplin so they can experience great art, both new and classic art, only an hour away," she said. "The topics and themes that Crystal Bridges presents have helped broaden perspectives and educate us to those important topics being discussed nationally. I think that Crystal Bridges can create interest and excitement to explore all the arts close to home."

Beshore, who serves as president of the Missouri Arts Council and as a trustee for Joplin's Spiva Center for the Arts, said the Joplin art museum is already discussing plans to work with Crystal Bridges through its Art Bridges program, which lends art to smaller centers for exhibitions.

Creating community

Beshore believes that after a year of limited or nonexistent opportunities to see performances, go to concerts or attend gallery openings because of the pandemic, people are interested in returning to those events safely this year.

"They may be even more appreciative of what live art adds to our lives after not being able to gather to enjoy art with others," she said. "Art experienced together helps create community and a sense of place; we've missed that tremendously over the last year."

Crystal Bridges opened in 2011 with approximately 1,500 works spanning five centuries of American art. It has since doubled its collection, has presented more than 60 exhibitions and has had more than 5 million visitors. Nearly three-quarters of visitors in 2020 came from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, with Joplin among the top 20 cities that visitors come from on a consistent basis, according to the museum.

Crystal Bridges also has undergone a few transformations in the past decade. In 2018, it reinstalled its early American art galleries to add Native American, folk and Spanish Colonial objects, contemporary works and bilingual texts. Last year, it formally opened the Momentary, a 63,000-square-foot satellite campus that focuses on contemporary art.

"It's wonderful to see how our community, our region and travelers to Bentonville from across the nation and around the world have embraced Crystal Bridges, and enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by art, nestled in nature, and immersed in Moshe Safdie's architecture," said Alice Walton, Crystal Bridges founder and board chairperson, in a statement. "With the number of visitors we welcome annually, it's timely to enlarge our building and make sure more people can access these offerings."