When the Walton Arts Center announced that it had hired a new CEO who'd run the New York City Pops at Carnegie Hall for 10 years you knew it was serious about moving into the big leagues.
So no one will be surprised if Peter B. Lane, most recently CEO for the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts near Woodstock, N.Y., ushers the Walton up and out of its modest home in Fayetteville. Maybe even to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which Alice Walton is building in Bentonville.
Consultants commissioned by the arts center advised last fall that the WAC was close to capacity and needed to at least double its seating, now 1,200 in the main theater. They envisioned a $180 million expansion on 13 acres, and developers in Rogers have proposed locating it there.
Crystal Bridges, which was to have opened this year but is still at least two years away from completion, is located on 100 acres owned by the Waltons. Access to the museum will surely be built from I-540. Why not put the arts center — supported by Walton money — there?
Lane, who started work May 1, wouldn't speculate on where the new arts center might be built or even when; he may know more in a year. He did say he'd been to Crystal Bridges “a number of times.” He also said that people will go where the productions are. “If you really want to see the Lion King, you'll drive to Beaver Lake if that's where it is.”
“Wonderful programs with the University of Arkansas are in the germination stage,” Lane revealed. That seems to suggest that the WAC's future in Fayetteville will be tightly linked with the U of A.
Lane, a California native who has worked on both coasts, said he was tempted to come to the heartland because the “WAC is poised” to grow,
Lane said there was a lot of work to do “to the ground work” for such a monumental fund-raising task here, “but when I peek under the covers I see the fundamentals in place.” He said the WAC has 1,100 donors now.