A CITY A WEEK AND WHY...BENTONVILLE, ARKANSAS
A visit to Bentonville, Arkansas is surprisingly satisfying--or perhaps it is more accurate to say it is satisfying in surprising ways. One expects to be impressed by Crystal Bridges, which after all has become something of a phenomenon since opening in November of 2011. One also anticipates or at least hopes to find small town charm in Bentonville. Walmart fortunes notwithstanding, it is still a town of less than 30,000 people in the northwest corner of a lightly populated state. The surprise comes from the fact that Bentonville is a place where not one, but two, very large cultural visions meet.
One vision, of course, belongs to Alice Walton. Crystal Bridges is the result of her vision for a major new museum of American art to be housed in an extraordinary building designed by architect Moshe Safdie and situated in the semi-wild parklands adjacent to Walton's childhood home.
The other vision originated in 2006, when preservationists and art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson decided to rehabilitate a series of connected buildings in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. This resulted in the first 21C, a seemingly improbable combination of hotel and art museum. There are now three 21C's with several more in the works including one opening next year in Durham in my home state of North Carolina.
21 C is a very good hotel, recently rated one of the best in the world by Travel and Leisure. It is an even better museum. The 21C in Bentonville sits on the edge of the Crystal Bridges' parkland. A simple walkway through the woods connects these two great and original visions.
It feels very complete--and very worth a visit.