If Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville weren’t enough to tip the scales, the Momentary — a satellite of Crystal Bridges situated in a former Kraft Cheese plant downtown — places Northwest Arkansas firmly on the map as a contemporary arts destination. Describing the space, Momentary Director Lieven Bertels calls it “an everyday living room for the arts with concerts, exhibitions, studio residencies and festivals.”
The former factory houses 63,000 square feet for contemporary art, musical and theatrical performances, studio space and an Onyx Coffee bar. Its opening weekend, Feb. 21-23, will pair its inaugural exhibit — “State of the Art 2020,” the follow-up to Crystal Bridges’ 2015 exhibit of the same name — with a festival it’s calling “TIME BEING.” Aussie indie rocker extraordinaire Courtney Barnett performs in the RØDE House, a 350-seat performance hall that allows for state-of-the art acoustic adjustments that includes a floor made up of panels on a lift, so the stage and audience size itself is malleable.
Transformation is the theme with this space — and also with the experiences the Momentary hopes to provide to audiences. Pia Agrawal, curator of performing arts, brought it up again and again when discussing opening weekend and expectations.
“It’s a completely flexible space. We’re really excited about it because a space like this doesn’t exist in this region, and there are very few like it in the country,” she said. “Our team is thinking about how performance can happen anywhere.”
In Fermentation Hall, the Momentary’s black box theater, music will abound from conceptual party electronica artist FM Belfast, as well as Hermigervill, an Icelandic musician who knows how to throw down with a theremin. American harpist Mary Lattimore brings her transcendent repertoire, and MacArthur Foundation 2019 “genius” grant recipient Annie Dorsen brings “Spokaoke,” a participatory performance that reimagines iconic speeches like MLK’s “I Have a Dream’’ into karaoke. Then there’s Bandaloop, whose “vertical performance” will use climbing gear and more to choreograph a performance on the exterior of the building. The idea here is to blur boundaries, distinctly the case in Bobbi Jean Smith’s “A Study on Effort,” a performance that meditates on sound, choreography and time in collaboration with violinist Keir GoGwilt, who will perform free pop-ups in the tower, which is 70 feet high and features multiple mezzanines.
Another performative experience for “TIME BEING” seems particularly apt for opening weekend.
“ ‘First Things First’ is actually designed around what it means to celebrate something for the first time,” said Agarawal. “Our artists are connecting in with the local community members to actually build that project specifically around celebrating the Momentary. We also wanted to create a festival that has such a variety of experiences that it gave people a sense of what to expect year round.”
The intention with every single aspect of “TIME BEING” is that the former Kraft cheese plant truly transforms for festival-goers and engages the most integral aspect of the museum, the audience, all the while reminding us of the building’s history.
“One of the selling points for the Momentary is that, because we haven’t changed too much of what the factory looked like on the inside, you’ll still be able to see the traces of history and traces of what it was,” said Lauren Haynes, the visual curator for the space. “We have to think about how does art really fit in and exist in that space.”
Instead of going along one path to experience it, the art within the museum’s wall must, in a sense, flow with the artists and projects working within it.
“It really shows what the space can do with artists working in different media,” she said.
Events are open to members Friday, Feb. 21, with general admission opening Feb. 22. Each performance requires its own ticket purchase; see themomentary.org for tickets.