The endowment honors the museum’s longtime board president, Ruth Carter Stevenson, who died in 2013, according to a statement from the museum.
Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, was on the museum’s board from 2004 to 2015. She is on the board of the Walton Family Foundation and is board chairman of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.
Andrew J. Walker, the Amon Carter Museum’s executive director, said the windfall came as a surprise.
“It certainly did when we were notified of it and it really marked a kind of milestone in Ms. Walton’s experience being on the board here and kind of really developing a very deep and abiding relationship with Ruth Carter Stevenson, almost a kind of mentor-mentee circumstance,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
“This was an opportunity for Alice to really acknowledge Ruth and the museum and all that this great staff has done in order to elevate this institution to its world-class status.”
Though Walton is no longer on the museum’s board and has been in the spotlight lately for her work with the Crystal Bridges Museum, Walker says she regularly stays in contact with the Amon Carter staff.
“She has a residence in Fort Worth and there’s opportunity to be in touch, and we certainly see her around and about and she’s in touch with various members of our board,” he said.
Walker can’t say yet specifically how the funds will be used. A press release noted that “the endowment will be used for temporary exhibitions that foster new scholarship, are innovative in the field, or complement themes and artists present in the Amon Carter’s permanent collection.”
“A lot of the planning is still in process,” Walker said. “We’ll make this an ongoing story as new adventures come forward that are really possible because of this great generosity.”
A $20 million infusion is especially welcome in an era when many arts organizations find themselves struggling financially.
“Any endowment gift of this nature helps in the long-term sustainability of any institution,” he said.
“So this is really about planning for the innovation of the future and this gift really is going to make that possible.”
Business Insider reported that the Wal-Mart heiress has a net worth of $33.2 billion, making her the wealthiest woman on the magazine’s list of the 50 richest people in the world.