The Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation has made a $120 million gift to establish a School of Art at the University of Arkansas.

It’s described as the largest gift ever to a U.S. university in support of a school of art.


This foundation is a separate, and smaller, entity from the Walton Family Foundation, with assets of more than $1 billion. The support foundation specifically helps colleges and universities in five states — Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. It reported $680 million in assets on its 2015 federal tax form. The biggest gift reported that year was $31 million to the Arkansas Community Foundation.

The gift  dovetails with the enormous investment made by the Walton family in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art up the road in Bentonville, home of the discount store corporation that made the Walton fortune.


I’ve asked for the specific agreement between foundation and school. A major Walton gift to the University years ago (all details of which the UA wouldn’t reveal at the time) led to creation of a division of Education Reform that has become deeply enmeshed in the politics of education in Arkansas. Crystal Bridges itself has taken a broadly encompassing view to art in its relatively short and succesful history.

The UA release:


The University of Arkansas is pleased to announce an unprecedented gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, to establish the School of Art.

The foundation has made a $120 million gift, which is the largest ever given to a U.S. university in support of or to establish a school of art. This gift creates the first and only school of art in the state of Arkansas, and will propel art education and research in the state forward while also providing unparalleled access and opportunity to students.
The gift will also help position the School of Art as a center of excellence in art education, art history, graphic design and studio art curriculum.

Former U.S. Sen. Kaneaster Hodges Jr., president and board member of the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and University of Arkansas Law School alumnus, said establishing the school underscores the importance of art education.

“The School of Art will be constructed as a model for inclusion and diversity,” he said. “It will be built with elements from the top schools and institutes across the country.”

“The School of Art will shape a new generation of artists, historians, designers and teachers with a unique understanding of the hope art can bring to communities,” said Alice Walton, chairwoman of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s board. “The unparalleled access to meaningful American art will connect the heartland to the world.”

Joseph E. Steinmetz, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, agreed, and said the university is grateful for such a transformative gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

“The newly endowed School of Art will transform the university and region into an international hub for the study of art,” Steinmetz said. “The School of Art will also have an immediate, resounding positive effect on the culture of our entire state, and its imprint will be seen across the nation and beyond.”

Steinmetz said the school will also place a strong emphasis on American art and art of the Americas, which uniquely complements the mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located in nearby Bentonville.

“The vision to create the School of Art could not have come to fruition without the cooperative, close and mutually beneficial relationship between the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the university,” he said. “With an emphasis on cross-disciplinary collaborations and signature outreach efforts with the museum, and a focus on student, faculty and staff diversity, the school will be uniquely positioned to develop programs to rival the top competitors in the field.”

Additionally, the school will be housed within the university’s J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, whose namesake is the former University of Arkansas president and U.S. senator known for recognizing the power of effecting global peace through international understanding and education. Steinmetz said this will further serve to catalyze and augment international art exchange programs throughout the Americas.

The $120 million gift will be allocated to three primary goals:

• Providing unprecedented levels of financial support for students in the form of scholarships, travel grants and internship opportunities.
• Engaging the region in outreach and public service through partnerships with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and a variety of community arts organizations.
• Expanding graduate programs and degree offerings in art history, art education and graphic design.

Additional goals include supporting the Fine Arts Library and the renovation of the historic Edward Durrell Stone-designed Fine Arts Center.

Todd Shields, dean of the Fulbright College, said, “It is impossible to adequately acknowledge the gratitude that we feel toward the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation for envisioning and pursuing this unparalleled addition to our community.”

“The impact of their philanthropy will be felt for generations to come,” Shields added. “With this endowment, Fulbright College, the University of Arkansas and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will become the epicenter for the study and creation of art in all of its many forms.”

Jeannie Hulen, chair of the former Department of Art and associate professor of ceramics, said the gift will also change students’ lives in a fundamental and personal way, allowing them to, in turn, better the lives of those they will impact with their art in the future.

“This amazing gift will allow us to recruit and retain students from Arkansas and beyond, giving unbridled opportunities for Arkansans to choose art as a career path,” she said. “We’ll also be able to seek out the best faculty to provide the necessary and ongoing support to teach, learn, create, and expand our outreach from beyond the classroom and into our community.”

The development of the School of Art will be phased in over a five-year period and will factor in the approvals necessary for developing degree programs by the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

James S. Coleman, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at University of Arkansas, said he is excited to see the School of Art develop and for the school’s future.

“This is a major academic initiative, and I’m thrilled to be at the University of Arkansas for the inception of this school and even more excited for its growth and development,” he said. “As the programs catalyze intellectual and creative vibrancy across campus, students matriculate, and the graduates make their mark, the school will attain national recognition and become a model for collegiate art education.”

Alice Walton, daughter of the founder of Walmart, later distributed an e-mail from Crystal Bridges commenting broadly on art education as part of the announcement of the gift. It follows:

Dear Friends,

“When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding.” Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923)

The “art spirit,” described by American artist and teacher Robert Henri, exists in everyone. It is not limited by gender, ethnicity, income, age or geography. It is not limited to artists or others who work in art-related professions. I discovered my own “art spirit” as a child painting watercolor landscapes with my mother. It has been a guiding force in my life ever since – in finance, in business, in philanthropy. And, especially, in art itself.

I am thrilled that through collaboration with the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the University of Arkansas announced today a groundbreaking initiative with the establishment of the new University of Arkansas School of Art.

From Northwest Arkansas, we will inspire students and scholars from around the globe with a fresh approach that will help redefine collaboration and experimentation by infusing the study of art into disciplines across higher education including business, education, architecture and engineering. And with a close connection to Crystal Bridges, we will bring a new level of study to American art to help create a better understanding of our history and our future. Up-close interaction with the museum’s collection and exhibition program will drive a unique curriculum. This approach will be built on an intimate relationship between a work of art and the viewer and will serve as a launch pad for scholarship and interpretation.

Art broadens our minds and expands our horizons—everyone’s horizons. It shifts our perspective and elevates our creativity. Every student can learn about art and apply creative thinking to excel in his or her chosen field of study. This will help develop not only inspiring artists but stronger business leaders, engineers and scientists as well.

As we increase access to art, we plant the
seeds of inspiration for the future.

Henri wrote, “Museums of art will not make a country an art country. But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums. Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

Our stories unfold through art and so does imagination and hope. As students both learn about art and through art, we build a future in which generations to come will be inspired by their own “art spirit.”