Wal-Mart was once charmed: a chain store founded by a pickup truck-driving CEO. Sam Walton, the founder, created a brightly lit world, filled with white-haired greeters and a bevy of cheap, potential Christmas presents.
Now, Wal-Mart's founding family eyes a legacy far from cheap blue jeans and tiny tags that read "Made in Bangladesh."
Alice Walton, the daughter of the Wal-Mart namesake, is founding Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—the same town that hosted the first Wal-Mart. At $50 million, this spacious museum accommodates its natural surroundings gracefully, far from recent museums that might upstage the art within, such as the celebrated, steel whimsy at Bilbao, Spain.
Designed by the eminent architectural group Moshe Safdie and Associates, the museum will house American and Native American art from colonial times to the present era. No word yet if the Haitian-born painter John James Audubon has a place, though he famously painted the birds flitting in nearby trees.
As if to make amends to Wal-Mart critics, who chastise it for flattening the wallets of locally owned stores, the Crystal Bridges museum should be a boon for the local economy. And it will also become a cultural center. In small towns such as Bentonville, locals have often seen the Wal-Mart as not just a place to shop, but a humming hive of activity; if Walton family fortunes hold true, this art museum should thrive upon its grand opening in 2009.