The Museum’s New Offsite Campus to be “An Everyday Living Room for Contemporary Art”
Article by KC Studios
Lieven Bertels, a Belgian arts professional with global experience, made his first visit to Bentonville two and a half years ago. He had worked in the U.K. and the Netherlands and most recently directed an arts festival in Sydney, Australia. Now here he was, a little apprehensive but interviewing for a job in a place of which he’d had no clue. But something big was clearly about to happen, another cultural leap sparked by a deep-pockets investment in art. And Bertels found himself, after a mere six hours in this remote but increasingly active outpost, dialing up his wife via Skype and delivering the proverbial “honey, we’re moving” news.
Sure, maybe money talks at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, the highly ambitious and locally transformational showplace founded by the Walmart Waltons, the wealthiest family in America.
But what Bertels signed onto is an attractive, and to him irresistible, commitment to the arts of today. He’s director of the latest expansion effort at Crystal Bridges. The museum has built an offsite campus devoted to contemporary art and cross-disciplinary culture called the Momentary.
The project is scheduled to open to the public Feb. 22 near Southeast E and 8th streets. It’s barely more than a mile south of the Moshe Safdie-designed Crystal Bridges complex in a wooded valley near Bentonville’s downtown district. The Momentary will host two major art exhibits this year, including a huge installation by Kansas City Art Institute alum Nick Cave, and will offer as many as 80 other events involving a wide range of performing arts, education, and even food initiatives.
“One of the things that excited me, from that more international perspective,” Bertels told me during a recent interview, “was that it has the best of both worlds in making a meaningful difference through arts and culture. This is somewhat a malleable and very swiftly changing, very dynamic part of the U.S. It’s not stale, it’s moving.”
Bertels has the look of a youngish arts professional — black-framed glasses, untucked shirt, stylish, brimmed cap, and close-cropped beard with only a hint of gray. We talked in a construction trailer on an October day a few hours before a public, music-filled preview of the Momentary.
For context, he pointed to such prominent predecessors as the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 in New York and the Mass MOCA complex in western Massachusetts, each of which involved repurposing an existing building for a new life in the arts.
“Where we might lead the way is accessibility,” Bertels said, a reference to the Momentary’s plans for community engagement and wholly free admission.
“The way we speak about it is that it’s an everyday living room for contemporary art. People should feel they can come in without much knowledge of the subject. It’s not about what you knew before you walked in; it’s about the experience you’re about to have.