Crystal Bridges: Don Bacigalupi, Art, Arkansas, Populism and Wal Mart

by Kelly Klaasmeyer December 19, 2011

Et tu, Currier and Ives?

When art people ask, “Where did you grow up?” and I answer, “Arkansas,” there is, invariably, an awkward pause. It is usually followed by “Oh.” or “Oh. Really?” and occasionally, “Well, um, I hear it’s really pretty there.” East coasters are the worst. It’s like they asked what your father does and you said, “He’s a serial killer.”

Now that the highly anticipated, widely discussed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has opened, those same people can say, “Oh, yeah, Arkansas, where that Wal Mart museum is.”

Arkansas has always had the poor, rural and ignorant stereotype – beginning with the 19th century “Arkansas Traveler” tall tales of the state’s rube squatter inhabitants. That image was given a modern face by racist demagogue Orval Faubus, who infamously used National Guard troops to prevent black students from attending Little Rock’s Central High. It seems somehow fitting that after his shameful gubernatorial career, Faubus went on to manage North Arkansas’s last great attraction, Dogpatch USA, a Li’l Abner hillbilly theme park. Souvenir corncob pipe anyone?

Orval Faubus, state embarrassment #897...

Period photo of Dogpatch U.S.A., Marble Falls, Arkansas. I think that's Mammy Yoakum in the hat...

Like a lot of other Arkansas apologists, I hoped Bill Clinton might give us a little re-branding. I love Bill. I just wish he could have left his inner randy redneck–the one who used to pick up girls in an El Camino with a carpeted truck bed–back in Hot Springs.

And, of course, Arkansas is the cradle of Wal Mart, pretty much the most hated company in the country, if not the world. What started out in flag-waving exhortations to buy American morphed into “Let us help your company relocate to China for those ‘Always Low Prices!’” That’s before we even get into Wal Mart employee horror stories.

So you’ve got a museum, it’s in Arkansas, it’s got a name that people widely agree sounds like a meth rehab facility and it’s funded with Wal Mart’s filthy lucre. Crystal Bridges, like many of us from The Natural State, has a lot to overcome.

The same people startled by the fact that someone from Arkansas might be involved in the art world are absolutely horrified that choice works of art have disappeared into the flyover territory of the Ozarks. When Wal Mart heir Alice Walton purchased important pieces, like the Asher Durand Kindred Spirits she bought from the New York Public Library for a reported $35 million, the outcry was loud – and revealing. Michael Kimmelman, writing in The New York Times, compared the departure of Kindred Spirits to the destruction of historic Penn Station, and hoped the horror of the loss would similarly galvanize the public. FYI, Michael, nobody destroyed Kindred Spirits. It just moved. But it seemed, in Mr. Kimmelman’s estimation, that leaving the third floor of the New York Public Library for pride of place in a museum in Bentonville was a fate if not worse, then at least equivalent to, death.

Asher Durand's "Kindred Spirits", 1849

And that all this was made possible by Wal Mart money was more than could be borne. Like all good liberals, I loathe Wal Mart, but let’s be fair. As an heir, Alice Walton certainly profits from Wal Mart, but she is not involved in the running of the company. And, if we are honest, good things have come out of fortunes with ethically questionable origins – didn’t robber baron Andrew Carnegie help create the New York public library system?

But I also understand that a portion of the disdain Wal Mart engenders isn’t just because brings in cheap crap from China, it’s because it brings in cheap, TACKY crap from China. Let me offer an anecdotal example. When Target moved into the hipster yuppiedom of the Houston Heights, it was essentially greeted with Cries of Hosanna. When Wal Mart announced its plans to move in as well, you would have thought an open pit nuclear waste dump had been proposed. Target brings in crap from China too, albeit better designed. And Target has had its own controversial practices, although nowhere near the level of the Wal Mart leviathan. But no one can tell me that beneath the outrage, there isn’t some hiss of socioeconomic prejudice: poor people shop at Wal Mart – poor, fat, tacky people (you’ve seen the website, right?). And all that art that Alice Walton was snatching up for her Arkansas museum would be pearls before the Wal Mart shopper swine.

Don Bacigalupi, the director of Crystal Bridges, has his work cut out for him. I spoke with him a couple months before the museum’s opening. He was in town to give a talk at the University of Houston, where he had worked as the director of the Blaffer Gallery in the 90s. I knew him only in passing (I did some educational outreach for the Blaffer when he was there), but I remembered Bacigalupi as sharp, down-to-earth and enthusiastic about community outreach.

Don Bacigalupi speaking at the opening of Crystal Bridges. (Yes, he looks alike a Republican presidential candidate, but it's just the suit.) image from, photo by Jason Ivester.

Bacigalupi came to Crystal Bridges from the Toledo Museum of Art, where he had helped that institution become one of the most visited museums in America per capita. Running a museum in a working class city like Toledo seems like good preparation for a museum in the Ozarks.

Although he’s an unabashed populist, Bacigalupi doesn’t believe in pandering. “The challenge in trying to be something for all those people is that you can’t simultaneously water down what you are at your core,” he explained. “You can’t lose sight of your mission at the museum, but you do have to find ways to offer points of access or open doors that allow people to begin that journey or that experience so then they might develop into regular museum goers.”

“I had a great experience in Toledo,” said Bacigalupi, as he talked with me about the efforts to foster audience participation and engagement and to “break down barriers among socioeconomic groups, levels of education, ethnic and racial lines” and his goal of “making the museum truly available and accessible for everybody.”

“It was extraordinary,” he said, “it was like one and one half times the population of the city came to the museum annually and there aren’t many other places that can boast that.”

Bacigalupi talked about the different ways people engage with a museum. He observed that some will become very invested in individual works or exhibitions or education programs, but that some will use it in other ways. He cited as an example a regular museum visitor in Toledo who told him she would come whenever she was stressed or having a bad day, saying the museum would always make her feel better and was “cheaper than aspirin.”

“Whatever use value the museum has for people, I think the museum staff has a responsibility to make that available and accessible to them,” said Bacigalupi. Crystal Bridges is free, which should make those kinds of visits possible. Although since its opening last month, it has apparently been so crowded admission is only possible through timed tickets.

I asked for examples of successful outreach in Toledo and he cited the museum’s Glass Pavilion, whose construction Bacigalupi oversaw, as prime example.  The museum’s glass collection includes objects from the 17th century onward. The new building was designed to have a working glass studio at its center, which could create work that could directly relate to objects in the collection.

“Toledo is a very self-professed working class town with lots of industrial history,” explained Bacigalupi, and much of it involved glass production, often for the auto industry. “It’s in the rust belt. There were a lot of people that worked on factory lines. For them, you might think that the museum doesn’t have anything to show them, that there is no relevance there. Well that particular experience of coming to watch someone working in a kind of factory-like studio setting where they are making something with their hands related directly to a lot of people’s daily work experience. They got it that art is made similarly, not necessarily in a factory line but it is made by people with hands and talents and skills.” Then, said Bacigalupi, those same people could go into the galleries and see what everyone from 17th century masters to contemporary one did with those same techniques.

The Toledo Museum’s restaurant became another opportunity for outreach. Bacigalupi had hired a new chef and one day she had a conversation with him about food history, its preparation and meaning in different cultures, and, he said “it really reminded me of my training as an art historian and the way in which art is made in different cultures and different contexts by people with different meanings in mind.”

Approaching it as an education program, they began a series of dinners, each with a menu built around a culture or a time or a place. A wine steward would talk about wine from that place or time; a curator would discuss art from the time or place, showing related work from the collection. It became a huge success with a long waiting list. What they had initially conceived as an occasional event became a hugely popular regular feature.

“People were just clamoring for the next one and throwing ideas out about what culture they wanted to see next or eat next. It was really interesting and it taught me a lot about the way people experience art in their daily lives,” Bacigalupi explained. The fact that most people can understand food’s cultural significance became an access point for a broader cultural discussion.

He sees movies as another example of a point of access, “most people have some visual literacy around movies. They can tell you what genre it is, they can tell you what period it is, they can tell you maybe even who the director is by virtue of its style. All of these kinds of art forms in our daily lives, I think have a role in bringing people to a discussion of visual art in any context.”

But, he acknowledged, some feel pop culture plays too big a role in modern museums. “Some lament the idea that museums are including so much pop cultural material in their programming, but I think the opposite: I think there is a really strong and powerful role that pop culture artifacts and ideas can play in art museum practice and in the history of visual arts.”

“Of course,” he laughed, “I’ve written about this, my own research is all about that intersection between art and popular culture but I do think in the space of the museum there are huge opportunities for activating people’s interest and understanding of the depth that is embedded in works of art that they wouldn’t naturally get otherwise.”

Bacigalupi noted the frequent disconnect between curatorial practice and everyday life. “I think there is always tension between that kind of curatorial practice, the academic view of art and the reality of working in a museum that ostensibly is to serve a broader community. The simultaneity of curating for a very small elite educated audience and a much broader differently educated audience creates a very interesting tension and I think it’s where some of the best work comes from.

“I often talk to my curatorial staff about the need to either think about programming adjacent exhibitions that draw populist audiences and that draw refined, educated audiences; or doing them in the same space so that you have got kind of a layering of points of access” said Bacigalupi. “Audiences that might come to see a very refined and esoteric exhibition should also encounter something very popular and then the much larger audience that would attend the very popular “blockbuster” show, should also have the opportunity to encounter something that is much more focused and much more intellectually challenging.

“You can always surround difficult material with points of access.” He gives as an example “High Societies,” an exhibition organized when he was the director of the San Diego Museum of Art. What had initially been proposed as a show of a private collection of Haight-Ashbury era rock posters, became, with Bacigalupi’s urging, an exhibition that presented posters from three different time periods and brought together three different curators from three different departments. The 60s’s psychedelia was joined by works from the museum’s collection, Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters for 19th century Parisian cabarets and 18th century Japanese ukiyo-e prints with their images of the Edo district’s courtesans and performers. All were daily life, or rather night life, ephemera that had come to be valued as artwork.

“The Southern California hippie culture came out en masse for nostalgia reasons to see the psychedelic rock posters and encountered the Lautrec and the Japanese prints, and really got it.” Meanwhile, “the much more specialized audience for Japanese prints came and encountered something different that gave the work currency in today’s world. It was very interesting for those audiences to cross-pollinate. There are ways to contextualize a whole range of different materials and make them accessible while simultaneously building every audiences’ understanding of what is embedded in those works.

The Moshe Safdie designed Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“The impulse for Crystal Bridges was really about reaching an audience that had been completely ignored in terms of cultural institutions, specifically visual arts,” Bacigalupi explained. “Yet there is a tremendous folk tradition of all of the arts [in Arkansas]. It’s a rich place for people to absorb all of that folk culture but without necessarily having access to other culture. Alice Walton, our founder, grew up in Bentonville and was deeply interested in art. She painted as a child. She was very eager and hungry for art and didn’t have access to it. And then when the family became successful and she was able to travel and ultimately collect art, she really lamented that she grew up without it. I think that her notion is that these are exactly the people that need it most, that want it, that hunger for it.”

Walton’s experience may sound a lot like those hardscrabble upbringing stories politicians tell for calculated effect, but I believe it. Whatever Wal Mart became, the family started modestly, living in the same sort of rural isolation and cultural privation that has pervaded Arkansas. Yes, folk culture aplenty, but the larger cultural world was hardly present. And even traveling to experience culture isn’t the same as having it down the street.

I’ve heard some glowing things about the new museum and some critical comments – mainly in terms of the architecture.  But I have high hopes for its role in the region and I think Bacigalupi seems well-suited to the job. And whatever the valid and invalid criticisms of Crystal Bridges, it is an incredibly positive thing for a region that has long been culturally starved.

Being grateful, however, doesn’t mean being uncritical. This week, I’m heading home to Arkansas for Christmas. I’m going to check out Crystal Bridges for myself. (If I can wrangle a timed ticket that is.) I have to admit, Bacigalupi’s enthusiasm is contagious. As a populist myself, I’m highly susceptible.

(In January, more from my interview with Bacigalupi and observations from my Crystal Bridges visit.)

Glasstire editor Kelly Klaasmeyer is an artist and art writer who grew up in Conway, Arkansas, a city triangulated by Toad Suck, Pickles Gap and Skunk Hollow.


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Brooke Stroud December 19, 2011 - 10:34

Kelly, I thought Crystal Bridges was a country singer from the 70’s. It is encouraging that Don is there. Can not wait to hear all about the experience.

Kelly Klaasmeyer December 19, 2011 - 10:54

That’s pretty funny. And Brooke, you know you’re welcome to come with on the 12-hour drive. We’ve got plenty of room in the mini van and every Pixar movie known to man for the 3 and 5-year-old. It’ll be a little slice of holiday hell, join us!!!

Rachel Koper December 19, 2011 - 10:40

Crystal Bridges sounds like one of those mega-churches with a TV station to me.

Diane Griffin Gregory December 19, 2011 - 11:13

Glad for Don and for Arkansas; looking forward to the rest of the story.

Rex Koontz December 19, 2011 - 12:44

Congratulations to Don, who is also a UH Art History alum.

Susan Conaway December 19, 2011 - 13:44

As a fellow Arkansan myself, I look forward to visiting as well. Thanks as always Kelly for the “relatable” laughs!

Kelly Klaasmeyer December 19, 2011 - 15:21

Yes, Miss Susan, you know from whence I speak. Go Hogs.

William Lovejoy December 19, 2011 - 14:36


Don’t fret-at least
a majority of Ameri-
cans know Arkansas is a state. When I tell
people I grew up in
West Virginia,a large
number will say,”I had a relative sta-
tioned in Norfolk”!!

Kelly Klaasmeyer December 19, 2011 - 15:17

That’s pretty bad, William. My sympathies.

Colette Copeland December 19, 2011 - 15:43

Kelly–great article and interview. I’m planning my roadtrip to the Crystal Bridges in the spring. I sat in a UPenn lecture where there was mass outrage about the snatching up of prized American artworks–to be shipped to the neverlands of Arkansas. I was rather shocked that folks openly stated their elitism.

Carla Hollis December 19, 2011 - 18:46

Thank you for this-I am excited that you will be visiting soon and I am looking forward to your comments! Hopefully they will be great and the museum will serve to bump up the face of Arkansas in the eyes of a more cultured crowd.–Safe travels-

Julie Speed December 19, 2011 - 19:13

Hi Kelly, Thanks for writing about Chrystal Bridges – yes the name is wierd but it feels like a kiss-off so I like it. Can’t wait to hear more about their collection – pics please? Getting to choose art with a budget like that must be a dream come true for Mr. Bacigalupi.

Michelle O'Michael December 19, 2011 - 19:50

I have a sculpture in the lobby of Roger’s Embassy Suites. It is so beautiful there.

JasonM December 19, 2011 - 21:55 Reply
Janet Tyson December 19, 2011 - 22:30

When the Fort Worth Art Association bought “The Swimming Hole” by Thomas Eakins, the NY press said the same thing about an important American treasure being hauled off to the hinterlands, where no one would see it. Anyway, really nice article.

HJ BOTT December 20, 2011 - 05:22

Thank you, Kelly, for your solidly “triangulated” grounding approach
to understanding who is at the helm of Crystal Bridges. As always, your
personal experience is evident whatever is on the table for readers to enthrallingly consume, but this is a pinnacle because of the “fresh” subject of treasures and the rounds of sociometric questions needing high/low cultural understanding and maybe acceptance. Anxiously awaiting your next round.

Michelle Cate December 20, 2011 - 20:52

I’ve been watching this one from afar with some intrigue as I am also originally from Ar-Kansas…

I hate to admit it but as a kid who loved to doodle, it was an artist that Wal-Mart sponsored to produce free posters (Susan Morrison’s “Animal Tracks”) that sparked the idea in me that maybe I could grow up and still be creative, save the world.
While it was probably one of the only things WM has ever done free for the Public… I hope this museum follows in that spirit of enrichment.

Ted Talley January 18, 2012 - 14:37

Michelle, some would argue that as a % of sales Walmart could do more, but they (Walmart Stores Foundation tied directly to the corporation) and the Walton Family Foundation (funded by Alice, her two living brothers and her dead brother’s widow) do plenty. Walmart scholarships available to the general public, Walmart associate scholarships and Walmart associate dependents scholarships. Plus, have you never been on a school fund-raising committee and approached a local Walmart for a donation (in cash or donation in-kind)? You sometimes have to get on their list several months head of time, but each store has an associate-led committee that reviews and approves local donations of all sorts (sometimes small, but they add up). Not to mention to almost instant reaction Walmart has to disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes. Often the free relief supplies (like bottled water and staple food items) have arrived by the truckload to stricken areas simultaneously or even before the Red Cross or Salvation Army arrives (and WELL before FEMA). Call me an apologist for Walmart? I prefer to be known more as T. Williams’ ‘Big Daddy’ who had a problem with mendacity.

I, too, look forward to the blog entry on the art itself from Kelly.

Oh, and by the way, dear readers of Kelly’s blog, if you do come up, never fear for lack of very nice hotel space, especially if you come on a typical weekend (that means when there are no Ozark craft fairs or a Razorback home game). The many business hotels that are busy Mon-Thurs are often wanting for guests for the weekend. You can expect to pay $60 to $80 / night at a nice secondary Marriott or Hilton family brand place on the weekend. (like Hilton Garden or Marriott Courtyard…even an Embassy Suites for not much more if any.)

Kathy Webster December 23, 2011 - 13:45

Do we get to read something about the art?

susan lieberman December 27, 2011 - 13:15

nice article. makes me want to visit. thanks.

Leslie Lasley Dawes December 31, 2011 - 10:55

Great article Kelly! I was amazed to see this story on CBS Sunday Morning in November and it was very informative about Alice Walton…but your perspective is hands down the best! Have fun on Holiday in Arkansas and even more fun on the trip back! I completely relate!!!

Carla Hollis January 9, 2012 - 02:12

Hi Kelly!
Hopefully I have not missed the follow up on Crystal Bridges after your visit. I have been out of town and touch myself for several weeks and plan to visit soon and would love to read your take.
Best to you,

Kelly Klaasmeyer January 9, 2012 - 07:24

Hey Carla,
Thanks for your interest, look for the follow-up in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, if you can visit, you should. I really liked Crystal Bridges, way more than I thought I would. There are some things to be worked out and improved but it’s a pretty great experience overall. And the potential is incredible.

HJ BOTT January 9, 2012 - 07:44

Kelly, looking forward to your take on Arkansas’ behemoth, China-Mart,
contribution to the arts. It seems nearly ALL the major museums and collections have come from “questionable” sources. Great to have the $ going into the arts. Glad to hear your initial reaction has been tempered that’s nice to hear. How many Texas artists are represented in their collection?

Ted Talley January 18, 2012 - 11:08

Thank you dear woman for this thorough article. You pretty much pegged the issues surrounding C.B. and Arkansas. Originally from the New Orleans area (Walker Percy’s ‘home’ town of Covington), 11 years in Houston area, and nearly twenty now in Bentonville/Ozarks (with two-year side trip to NYC area) From my house in downtown Bentonville you could easily see the museum’s towering construction gantry alit at night for the past two years. It looked like a snippet of the Greenspoint/FM1960 area circa 1980 peeking above the hardwoods.
I am a member of the museum (though admission is free, I felt it my ‘civic’ duty to join since this facility is doing so much in a much different way for the region beyond Walmart or Tyson’s). I appreciate the “Arkansas” eye-rolls you have suffered over the years as you confess your genealogy. It is a pity, really, it is, that the the state gets such a bad rap from the headlines over the decades that camouflage the good, interesting and unique aspects of the state. For example, when first moving to Little Rock in 1980, having never set foot in the state prior, I was impressed with the ambiance. The city, halfway give or take between New Orleans and St. Louis or Kansas City, seems to embody the gentility of the deep south with the midwest ‘work ethic’. No sitting on the veranda sipping juleps here. Works for me. Yet for some all Little Rock means is the Central High turmoil, a former president and a certain blue dress and a mention in show biz (Nelly Forbush in South Pacific, you recall, was from “Small Rock” and those two little girls from Little Rock, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell—now that was a new definition of ‘little’.)
Another factor is that people, especially from the eastern seaboard, but Texans as well, need somebody or something to ‘look down’ upon. Arkansas and Mississippi suit that need so readily, it seems.

I have come to love the state of your origin, dear Kelly. I came here to Bentonville years ago because I sold stuff to Walmart. I still do, to a degree, but my largest customers by far with more recent employment are in Atlanta and Wisconsin. Yet I remain here in Wally-world because there are so many benefits (even before this museum). It is just plain easy and wonderful to rear a family here, especially in my remaining years as a widower. The schools are excellent amd will match or beat any standard from the best of big-city Texas suburban systems. Example: my son, a graduate of Bentonville high and a product of its nationally-recognized school music program—is dean’s list every semester in your demanding and famous UNT College of Music down in the Lone Star state. I dare say he would not be doing as well if we had remined in the typically adequate Klein district in Spring. But the experiences he had here in ‘lil ol’ Arkansas outdo anything I’ve heard of in Texas…like our high school Chamber Choir invited to perform at Carnegie Hall and our local youth orchestra performing at same NY hall the next year. To explain to a Houstonian, this area is like a combo of a small S.E. Texas city like Huntsville or Cleveland and The Woodlands. But WITHOUT the major metro looming in the near distance yet WITH a major state university just down the road (in Fayetteville). The market, depending on which demographers and statisticians you consult,can run in size from about 400,000 to about 900,000 people, depending on how many minutes you care to drive up and down the Interstate 540/US 71 corridor. Hardly Dogpatch or Cut and Shoot.

So the art is here in the middle of the country at a place where some ‘populists’—campers and fishers and rock climbers and oh yeah, ex-hippy Eureka Springs artists—-abound along with more generic suburbanite folk you would think were plucked directly from North Atlanta or Plano or such (because they were). They will visit and support the art here (and have already done so), not even to mention those in nearby (relatively speaking) Kansas City and Tulsa. And the biz travelers by the thousands who come in to call on Walmart and Tyson as well. They (including me) are not travelin’ salemen hucksters. You have to be educated and well rounded to deal with any large corporate organization. Which by the way, Kelly, brings to another point raised by those—not you—outside Arkansas as to the dumbness and unworthiness of the state. If folks in Arkansas are dumb and backwards, just how is it, please tell me, that these dumb folk somehow figured out how to run the world’s largest corporation that operates an IT grid second only to the Pentagon? And other ‘Arkansans’ down the road in Springdale have somehow, through their limitations, successully built Fortune 500s 2nd largest meat producing company? Visiting C.B. on a Friday or Saturday evening, based on the crowd I see, would be no different than a similar West U crowd at the Blaffer or the Houston natural history museum—a youngish group of adults who are either from U. of A in nearby Fayetteville or young marketing professionals who have come to town to work for the hundreds of consumer products companies officed here for the Walmart biz. Another side note to the population dymnamics here: Exxon, General Foods, Proctor and Gamble, etc. nor IBM and National Cash Register don’t send their stupidest sales people and engineers to handle the company’s largest account, now do they?

This big biz stuff is part of why the museum is here and of course why the bucks were available, via dear Alice, for the collection and endowment. But what major museum is NOT. As has been stated in many informed places by those who can put down the anti-Walmart, pro-union PowerPoint slides for a moment, you often have to hold your nose when considering the smell of the root of big money that makes much of art and culture possible for the public. I understand the criticism of Walmart. But as only one example for goodness’ sake, the Waltons, for all their imagined or real sins, have not yet as far as I know entertained a fascist plot to overthrow the U.S. presidency as the case wtih Mr. Clark of the Clark Art Institute. And by the way, I’ve run some thumbnail numbers as to whether this money and effort by Alice would have been better redirected and spent on improving the lot of Walmart employees chained to their oars (the UPC scanners) in the ship galley. Even with these big bucks spent on C.B., anything that Alice could have done would have been a ‘token’ cast over 2.2 million employees. In my calculation, perhaps, if applied to some kind of annuity for employees, enough to buy dinner for two once year at Cracker Barrel (if you have a two-fer coupon). The Walton Family Foundation does a lot of other things, almost sub-rosa, in charitable support of other more routine good works. The museum is just getting the press because it’s ‘out there’ for one, and garnered negative publicity for the outraged East Coast establishment. Which, by the way,I say to those who fret about American art leaving the Hudson Valley because it ‘belongs there’: Call Santinni Bros. movers in Manhattan and let’s round up those Dutch masters at the Met to ship back to Holland. If Alice had simply remained on her horse ranch west of Fort Worth and ‘blown’ her money on more horseflesh and art work for her eyes only and hired a full-time chauffer (which we all in Arkansas wish she would do) to avoid those regretful DUI issues, then we wouldn’t be having this discusssion now, would we?

Kelly, I chuckled at your assessment of liberals and Target vs. Walmart. You are spot on there. And your confession tells me you, as many others have, have succumbed to the Target advertising and spin. So cute,that white dog with the red target painted on his eye. He sure is not a China import, yet really dear people, bottom line: There is so little difference among the big discounters (WMT, KM TGT) as it relates to merchandise or employees conditions and benefits. Really. Target has this ‘aura’ of being upbeat and fashion forward. Therefore, the educated and often liberal shop there. The working class is down the road at Walmart. Yet what do you see when you enter a Target? Horrible, cheap and 100% imported 99 cent store stuff right there at the front door in massive displays (unless the Heights store is different). For me, I’d much rather enter a Walmart and be greeted by a retiree doorman and see, on my left, the ‘cart rail’ display of a dozen or so key promoted items YOU REALLY NEED, which by the way, are often U.S. made paper goods (in big multi-roll packs of course), household detergents and food items.

The whole anti-Walmart stuff is so pea-shooter at the elephant. They are the biggest, the most successful, This is, in my opinion, a key reason for the hate: Bill Clinton or J.W. Fulbright aside, NOBODY and NOTHING from Arkansas ‘deserves’ to be so successful. Retail success stories are to be written in places near either coast or Chicago. The criticisms of the big discount store chain rings shallow to me—like taking on Coca-Cola for the damage soda pop does to the public health without including Pepsi or Dr Pepper. (By the way, I learned the correct spelling of Dr Pepper without the period at Baylor journalism school, another cultural icon with a wonderful museum—the Browning Library—located in the midst of an otherwise cultural void, God Bless dear Waco).

Bottom line, Kelly, as Mr. Clinton might say, “I feel your pain.” Coming from a typical southern state is at once a blessing and an albatross. Even though my so-called home city New Orleans is a culturally diverse place, the area and the state are not take seriously often. It is the land of ‘show me your naked breasts’ for some cheap Chinese-made plastic beads, and hot sauce, and little more to most folk. A place to visit, eat and drink too much, and go home to Kankakee and sleep it off.

At least a visit to N.W. Arkansas will rarely generate a hangover.

Kelly Klaasmeyer January 18, 2012 - 21:34

Hey Ted,
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and entertaining comment. It’s a really interesting, balanced and incredibly informed take. Seriously, if Glasstire ever expands to Arkansas, we need to bring you on as a blogger! I’m wrapping up Part II and I’d love to hear your thoughts once it is up.

J. Stephens July 2, 2012 - 13:47

I second the invitation to Ted, Kelly! I enjoyed your article, dear Kelly, but was surprised at your view of my home state… it is a vastly different experience than mine. For example: The Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock has one of the most extensive and respected works on paper in the world. I grew up taking art classes there every summer and found later, in my studies, that somehow, my experience there was the same as any New Yorker. I’ve always said that I love to travel but that Arkansas is an excellent home base. However, I get weary of traveling. I don’t weary of Arkansas, only those who de-base it. But, no matter, more for us to stretch out and enjoy! (I also find the motto “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” to be sufficiently humbling and motivating to not point fingers.)
Arkansas is often related to me by non-natives as a surprising treasure hidden in the middle of the country. I used to sound much like you, Kelly, when, in high school, it was the thing to do, but after moving North for a little while, I couldn’t get back home fast enough. I left to get away from the small-mindedness I perceived around me only to find it in droves everywhere! Today, I could live anywhere happily b/c it would be for different reasons that I would chose to move – armed with the knowledge that no one is better or worse than me/us/them.

Ted, I RELISH your perspective on Arkansas and on the businesses that have succeeded here. Thank you for posting. I, too, find it incongruous that the same folks who are enraged at the source and location of the museum are incrminating themelves if the same lens were held to their own centers of art, education and endowments! We all live on planet Earth… there’s the rub! To look at other’s with “stars on their bellies” is so amusing, if not a bit sad. Let’s put the labels aside, being nice to others AND ourselves, and just enjoy the ride!

Viva L’Arkansas et Les Etats Unis d’Amérique!

Kelly Klaasmeyer July 2, 2012 - 14:28

Hey J.,
Thanks for your comments! Rather than bashing Arkansas, I was trying to summarize popular perceptions. I took some great classes as a kid at the Arkansas Arts Center as well. Although I was just back in town and saw ads for exhibition “Tattoo Witness: Photographs by Mark Perrott” which appears to be a perfect storm of bad photography and pandering to expand their visitor demographic. Sigh.

HJ BOTT January 19, 2012 - 00:43

With the essays from Kelly and Ted, we have certainly learned a great deal about Arkansas. Would like to mention the finest physical/mental/vocational rehabilitation center in America is (was?) in Hot Springs, having done lectures there and attended many fine rehab conferences in Arkansas. My time there was before WalMart became China-Mart with all the other big-boxes destroying small American communities. Looking forward to the next installment on Crystal Bridges. Mid-America deserves another heavily endowed museum, letting the world know the sun never sets on the East Coast for the visual arts. Those complaining in NYC about the losses of masterpieces to C.B. have mistakenly applied Charles Baudelaire’s, “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” to everything unseen off Manhattan. It’s also a wondrously beautiful State.

J. Stephens July 2, 2012 - 13:50

Most graciously stated.

Ted Talley January 19, 2012 - 07:04

Hey, H.J., growing up around New Orleans (a key port city, and like NY, an historic entry point for waves of immigrants), I came to know the ‘view’ from a parochial big city. There somewhere must be a New Orleans equivalent to that famous New Yorker magazine cover/poster showing a Manhattanite’s view of the U.S. My dear grandmother, great-grandparents and cousins who were Crescent City natives believed the center of the world was at the ‘foot’ of Canal St. where is meets the river. Crossing the Lake Pontchartrain causeway to come see us in the country was a very big deal for them. Like crossing the Mediterranean from Marseilles to Africa.

I am looking forward to Kelly’s entry on the art and architecture. Sooner or later they will get those ponds filled, but they’re still working on the ‘water feature’.

My thumbnail, scattered comments on the art in the meantime? Robert Henri’s “Jessica Penn in Black….” stopped me in my tracks, as did Tait’s “Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix”. Maybe that’s just because I’m a guy (one is a very pretty woman, another an adventure snapshot).

And I don’t know where Warhol’s “Dolly Parton” resided before she arrived at CB, but very honestly, my first reaction when I approached: “Well, Hello Dolly. Welcome home.” I figured Dolly needed to be in the South, even if it were only 15 minutes south of the Missouri line.

And right next to Dolly, Thiebaud’s “Supine Woman” got to me for some reason. In a good way. Maybe it evoked memories of my late wife as school teacher, then full time S.A.H. mother, worn out. Or the plight of women execs at Walmart and nearby consumer product offices. And then Nam June Paik’s John Cage tribute. Amusing at first, then my eldest son (the UNT cello major) had to explain it to me. Cool.

Cool….you see, perhaps I am a perfect example of education to the masses that C.B. or any museum can be. My forte in arts, amateur-wise, has been in music and theater. Visual arts, not so much. I for one have been spring-boarded into learning about art because of this museum. Example: on a recent business trip to the Phoenix area I took time aside for a tour of F.L. Wright’s compound in the desert as well as, another afternoon, to the Phoenix Art Museum. The latter is something I would have never done before C.B. And you know, am I developing a discerning eye? I did a compare/contrast to some of the same artists’ works in the Phoenix and C.B. More importantly as an example, I saw across one room in Phoenix a large work I think was called “The Leek Seller”. From a distance I thought surely it was an Eakins, but then closer saw it was not as finely detailed as an Eakins and was French. Chalk one up for C.B.—educating this hillbilly in art?


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