Occupy Wall Street Anger at Bentonville Museum Misplaced
The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, which opened earlier this month, is now one of the largest permanent collections of American art in the United States. Nestled among dogwood trees and designed by Moshe Safdie, the museum is an example of how northwestern Arkansas is coming into its own. The museum’s ties to Walmart, as in Sam Walton’s youngest child, Alice Walton, are infuriating both cultural critics on both coasts as well as the ire of Occupy Wall Street protesters. Occupy Wall Street protestors point out the company’s cuts in employee benefits as well as the usual list of grievances that the retail chain’s opponents call out time and again. Others lash out at the US$1.4 billion price tag and the location of the museum. Never mind the fact that Alice Walton’s money is her money and she can spend, donate and invest however she wants--or that the Bentonville-Fayetteville region is home to 450,000 people. The region will now gain visitors other than folks seeking business with Walmart or alumni attending University of Arkansas sporting events. Now local Bentonville Occupy Wall Street protestors have informal links to their brethren in Manhattan. For New York’s Occupy Wall Street protesters, who as all OWS groups make valid points (when they are not confusing everyone else on what their goals are), cultural institutions like Lincoln Center, the Met, New York Philharmonic and New York Fashion Week are now targets of their wrath. Such criticism of leading art institutions, whether they are in New York or Bentonville, are as pathetic as they are misguided. Whatever you think of the Waltons, or any other American family that are part of the 1 percent, the stubborn fact remains that much of America’s greatness, and what we should all proudly defend as American exceptionalism, is because of corporate philanthropy. Many of the strongest non profit foundations in our country are due to the Rockefeller’s, the Ford’s, the Mellons and now, the Gates’ and Buffett’s. And yes, the Walton’s. Attacking artists as “reactionary,” as some on The Guardian have commented, is absurd and counterproductive. The arts have done a lot in this country to lift our spirits and express our national pride. Occupy Wall Street protesters would do themselves, and the rest of us, a favor by unifying the voice and directing their anger to where anger is deserved: to the financial firms that had a role in leading the world to near financial ruin and the politicians who allowed this mess evolve since well before 2008. Protesting Alice Walton and Walmart will only move OWS to one direction: no where. Critics of Walmart need to stick to those talking points--and stop using Crystal Bridges as a strawman. Pictured: World’ Columbian Exposition, by Theodore Robinson, now part of the Crystal Bridges Museum Collection. Note: for my thoughts on the southern hemisphere, read my thoughts on Brazilian exceptionalism.