Art for Heartland: Behind the Walton Family Foundation's Latest Gift

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

We will say it again: Walton moneythe largest family fortune of our timeis likely to loom large in the future of American arts philanthropy. One effect of this giving, which we're seeing already, will be to bolster the arts outside of top cities and coastal corridors. But how things will otherwise play out, exactly, remains to be seen. 

Back in September when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art awarded the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art its inaugural Don Tyson Prize, I noted that the Walton family's arts giving was toggling between traditional and more contemporary arts philanthropy.

The gift to the Smithsonian was an example of the former. On the other hand, Alice Walton's work with Crystal Bridges, which recently included transforming an idled Kraft cheese plant into a space for contemporary art exhibitions, artists' projects, music, theater, and film, was an example of the latter.

There's clearly truckloads of money at stake here, so we can't help but engage in a speculative parlor game: Where on the continuum will Waltons' next art gift land?

News out of Fort Worth, Texas, points to the more traditional side, as the Walton Family Foundation awarded the Amon Carter Museum of American Art a $20 million endowment to support future exhibition and education initiatives over the next five years. The gift, which honors the Amon Carter's longtime board president, Ruth Carter Stevenson, is the largest in the museum's history.

Not coincidentally, Walton Family Foundation board member and "America's Most Important Arts Philanthropist" Alice Walton served on the Amon Carter's board of trustees from 2004 to 2015.

The endowment will enable curators to host and organize temporary exhibitions that foster new scholarship, complement themes and artists present in the Amon Carter's permanent collection, and enhance programs for both students and teachers.

Viewed through this lens, the Walton Family Foundation's support to the Amon Carter Museum strongly resembles its $10 million give to the National Gallery of Art back in April. That gift established the John Wilmerding Fund for Education in American Art and will support internships, programs, and other initiatives at the gallery.

Commenting on this traditional gift at the time, I noted that Wilmerding's work "dovetails nicely with the foundation's celebration of American art (a theme, not coincidentally, that is also central to the Crystal Bridges project, which aims to celebrates American art in the heartland)."

The same can quite obviously be said for the Texas-based Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

"This amazing endowment allows us to expand our offerings beyond what our current operating budget provides, and to engage the community on a deeper level," said Andrew J. Walker, executive director. "The Amon Carter is truly grateful for this tremendous demonstration of support."