Will a Woman Transform the World through Art and Medicine? Alice Walton circa 2005-2031 and beyond
I first saw Alice Walton in May 2012 when she received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas. She arrived from her Texas ranch where she raised, trained, and rode cutting horses. I was struck by her ordinary, low-key appearance in dress, hairstyle, and demeanor and her comments to the graduates that bridged her love of horses and what she has learned about life from them and her commitment to art. Just a year before she had opened the doors to the Crystal Bridges Art Museum that she totally financed and had built on a gulley on the family property in Bentonville.
Why did a Walmart heiress who majored in economics at a small, private Texas university and was reputed to be the third richest person in the world build an art museum in her hometown far away from the art epicenters like those of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, and Rome? In the words of Alice, going to her first art museum as a child changed her life. She saw the world past, present and future in those pictures. She added art to her passion for horses and in 2005 decided to build a museum that focused on American art that would be open to all people, free of charge, so other children regardless of circumstances could see life beyond their small towns and farming communities.
Crystal Bridges (https://crystalbridges.org/ ) is different in appearance, location, and focus, each conceptualized by Alice Walton and built in conjunction with carefully selected professionals that made the uniqueness of her vision become a reality. It is now, a decade later, considered a world-class museum that is transforming the perspectives of art in America. It is a museum with a stable core and eclectic elements that speak to new times, visions, and futures. It is a museum that, true to her vision, is changing the lives of children as it brings art alive and part of the changing culture of our times.
Alice Walton is transforming the world through art (Vogel, 2011) and began the journey to transform healthcare by moving it from a disease model to a wellness model in 2020. Rooted in her own experiences with being cared for in the US healthcare system and her appreciation for other forms of being healthy, she gathered a core group of professionals into a Whole Health Institute situated on the 120 Crystal Bridges Art Museum campus (https://www.wholehealth.org/). The goal of the institute is to be a resource for individuals and groups to create and/or participate in communities of practice that focus on making choices about their own wellness. The institute provides at no costs an evolving online library of materials as well as training resources for how to set personalized goals that can actualize living fully and with awareness. Adding to art and wellness, in 2022 Ms. Walton the addition of a medical school scheduled to open in 2025 as the final phase of her vision that links art, wellness, and medical sciences (https://www.alwmedschool.org/ ).
Alice Walton sought to change lives through art with the Crystal Bridges Museum. Adding the Whole Health Institute and a medical school to the museum campus completes her vision for fundamentally remembering the past and reimagining the future. This presentation will use written and spoken word as well as visual elements to think about the question posed in the title – will a woman transform the world through art and medicine.