In London, it was a hulking electric power station (now the Tate Modern).
In North Adams, Mass., it was an electronics plant (whose buildings now house the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). In Beacon, N.Y., it was a Nabisco cracker-box factory (now home to Dia:Beacon, the mecca of minimalist and conceptual art).
And next in the march of postindustrial artification, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., — home to Wal-Mart — has announced plans to transform a defunct Kraft cheese plant into a raw space for contemporary art exhibitions, artists’ projects, music, theater and film.
The 63,000-square-foot space is intended to function in the way that MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens, serves as an edgier, more experimental affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art.
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It is expected to open in 2018, Crystal Bridges officials said, and the location, in downtown Bentonville, would not only provide a place to show more contemporary art but would also continue a transformation of the small city and the surrounding region into a cultural alternative to cities like New York and Los Angeles.
This project is going to be huge for the younger generation, the millennials.
“This project is going to be huge for the younger generation, the millennials,” said Tom Walton, 32, a nephew of the museum’s founder, Alice L. Walton, in a telephone interview. He added that the hope was that Bentonville, whose population is 40,000, surrounded by rapidly growing neighborhoods and towns, would “become one of the hottest destinations in the country.”
The project will be supported by the Walton Family Foundation as part of its efforts to enhance the quality of life in northwest Arkansas, officials said.
Steuart and Tom Walton — grandsons of Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, and his wife, Helen — are overseeing the development of the space, in a factory building from the 1940s, that will become part of what is being envisioned as a downtown market district in Bentonville.
Crystal Bridges — the brainchild of Fort Worth resident Alice Walton, the youngest child of Sam Walton and one of the world’s wealthiest people, with an estimated fortune of about $33 billion — is the first museum of its size to be established between the coasts in more than a generation.
It is home to a growing number of masterpieces of American art from the 19th and 20th centuries. And since its opening in 2011, it has become a major tourist draw and economic driver in the region. Last fall it announced that it had welcomed more than 2 million visitors in its first four years.
Tom Walton, who is also developing a culinary center in downtown Bentonville, said the Kraft plant, which closed in 2012, helped shape the museum’s thinking about the need for a place where it could do things it might not be able to on the site of its permanent collection. He said that he thought of the industrial space as a “kind of living room for the community,” where art, music, performance and food would be on offer in unexpected ways.
The site is being developed in consultation with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and will be reshaped by Wheeler Kearns Architects of Chicago to maintain its industrial feel.
In Bentonville, we are very fortunate to have the blessing of space.
Chad Alligood, curator
Another impetus for the new space, officials said, was the museum’s unusual 2014 exhibition, “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,” in which two curators traveled extensively through the United States, visiting the studios and homes of thousands of little-known and emerging artists and eventually choosing the work of 102 as a kind of contemporary-art snapshot.
Chad Alligood, one of the exhibition’s curators, said that it had provided Crystal Bridges with “a fantastic baseline” for experimenting. But it also had presented the museum with a problem: where to show much of the contemporary art it was seeing and sometimes acquiring.
“We’re bursting at the seams here,” Alligood said. “I looked all over the building and there was really nowhere to put it.”
But one of the benefits of his part of the country, he said, is that it is not dense, overpopulated and expensive like the urban centers where many art institutions crave more room.
“In Bentonville, we are very fortunate to have the blessing of space.”