The Walton Family Foundation will give the Arkansas Arts Center $1 million over 10 years, executive director Todd Herman announced at the Arts Center's annual meeting today.
Alice Walton said in a letter to Herman that the gift reflected the foundation's appreciation of "the tough decisions that the board of the Arkansas Arts Center has made to sustain this institution during tough economic times." Those tough decisions include firing two full-time employees and cutting senior staff pay by 10 percent.
The Arts Center also announced it will send 26 modern American drawings from its collection to Walton's museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, to be exhibited next year.
While some may sniff that the gift is infinitesimally smaller than the $1.2 billion (that we know of) that the foundation has given Crystal Bridges, the announcement brought much applause from those at the meeting. The Arts Center does not look cross-eyed at gifts of $100,000; the sum is greatly welcome at an institution that had an operating deficit of $500,000 in fiscal year 2011-12. Thanks to the Arts Center Foundation's gift of $2.2 million to cover the Arts Center's debt (from money borrowed to keep the Arts Center afloat during the "World of the Pharaohs" exhibition) and a gift from the Henry Luce Foundation to pay for two new curators, the Arts Center ended cash in the bank, but it would have been in hot water without those dollars.
With the Luce money and a gift from an anonymous donor, the Arts Center has hired two curators: Brian Lang, who comes from Herman's former employer the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, S.C., and who will be curator of contemporary craft, and Ann Wagner, formerly of the prints and drawings department of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., is curator of drawings.
The public nature of the Arts Center is tough for the board, which pre-Pharaohs formerly operated without much scrutiny, because it opens its business to public inspection. However, the event emphasized the city's connection to the Arts Center: Mayor Mark Stodola handed out plaques of appreciation to retiring members of the board of directors and board president Chucki Bradbury made a point of noting that the building — which is expensive to maintain, especially this year, when the Arts Center had to buy new boilers — is owned by the city. The building needs a back-up generator, Bradbury said, and the board is now trying to raise money to buy one.
Because of the sales tax increase approved in Little Rock last year, the city was able to increase its giving to the Arts Center to $250,000 from $100,000. (It ought to be giving even more, as it did in the past, because of the Arts Center's position as the largest arts and arts education institution in Central Arkansas, which makes Little Rock a more attractive place to live and do business.)