Being the headquarters and humble birthplace of the multinational retail mammoth Walmart is arguably not the most enticing attraction for high-brow cultural purveyors, but in the past ten years, Bentonville, Arkansas has become a leading destination for art lovers thanks in large part to the hometown philanthropy of Walmart heiress, Alice Walton. With a net worth of over 46.8 billion dollars, Walton is literally the wealthiest woman in the world and lucky for us and culture vultures alike, Walton is a passionate art collector, having purchased her first piece—a reproduction of Picasso’s Blue Nude from her father’s dime-store—at ten years old.
From these humble beginnings, Walton has since become a singular force in bringing art to the Ozarks, having spearheaded the renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art back in 2011. Walton was also responsible for bringing in the talented visionaries at 21c Museum Hotel, giving out-of-town art enthusiasts a place, and all the more reason to stay and discover all that Bentonville has to offer. It’s almost enough for us to start believing in trickle-down economics (...almost). Without further ado, here’s our guide to a weekend in a Southern town whose leisurely pace boasts worldly depth and character paired with a whole lot of local pride.
Check into 21c Museum Hotel:
Like all its locations, 21c Bentonville is no ordinary hotel. With over 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, the museum portion of the 21c Museum Hotel experience offers some of the most cutting-edge works of art from around the world. Not only is admission absolutely free, the museum is also open 24 hours daily! Some highlights from their Bentonville collection include works by Nidaa Badwan, whose hauntingly beautiful photo series, 100 Days of Solitude, poetically draws attention to women’s rights in the Middle East, as well as Hank Willis Thomas’ interactive piece titled Intentionally Left Blanc, which engages guests to reflect on contemporary civil rights in the U.S.
Brunch at The Hive:
Executive chef Matthew McClure may have been a semifinalist for the incomparably prestigious James Beard Foundation Award, but if you think an Arkansan would be quick to forget his roots, you’d best think again. That home town loyalty isn’t lost on the menu either. An homage to the culinary traditions of the High South, McClure sources all his ingredients locally. Their brunch menu alone makes us wish we had second (or even third) stomachs but since we have to choose, get the spiced pecan buttermilk pancakes, or the honey orange corn cakes (with sweet cranberries and mint yogurt)... that white bean soup though. Also chicken on a biscuit… Oh god, there’s dessert too.
Bike to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art:
Assuming you haven’t eaten yourself into a stupor already (we don’t blame you), rent a bike from the 21c front desk and pedal on over through acres of lush, Ozark landscapes to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Designed to spark the imagination, the meandering trail ways and bike paths through the museum’s 120-acre property are an unmissable part of the Crystal Bridges experience. There’s even a dedicated Art Trail, lined with outdoor sculptures by Robert Indiana, Keith Haring, and Robyn Horn. Talk about idyllic!
One of the benefits of having a museum that’s privately funded by the world’s largest corporation is that general admission can be absolutely free! Designed by the world renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the museum has been called the “countrified Guggenheim Bilbao.” While we take some issue with the word “countrified” (do living trees really make a place that rustic?), the museum is absolutely, and uniquely breathtaking and indisputably world-class. Don’t be fooled! There’s nothing folksy about this American Art haven.
Head to the Scott Family Amazeum:
If you’re travelling with children, the Scott Family Amazeum is a must—especially after you’ve dragged them through all those galleries full of pictures that you can’t touch and don’t move. This interactive, hands-on museum uses art and science to engage creativity, curiosity, and community with experiences including a climbable tree canopy, indoor cave, art studio, and tinkering hub. Honestly, this is worth a visit no matter how old you are! The only thing we can’t figure out is how to properly pronounce Amazeum…
A James Turrell sunset experience:
Be sure to start heading back about an hour before the sun sets! If you head back down the Art Trail, you’ll see a funny looking circular stone building built by James Turrell. Called The Way of Color, the building is actually a giant oculus where you can experience one of the most spectacular and unique views of the sky at sunset. Make sure you arrive at least ten minutes before sunset and have your phone charged—you will not want to miss posting this one on the 'gram.
Dinner in a church:
Hallelujah! We here at Artspace are firm believers in the gospel of food. The perfect umami balance can absolutely be a religious experience, but The Preacher’s Son really takes that sentiment to heights that are as awe-inspiring as they are quite literal. Set inside what was formerly Bentonville’s First Christian Church, would-be congregants are invited to sup upon much, much more than a communion wafer. The son of a Methodist preacher, executive chef Matt Cooper delivers his sermons from the kitchen, with a locally sourced menu that includes the Across the Creek Roasted Half Duck with sweet potatoes (we recommend calling ahead to reserve your half portion). Don't forget to order their Crystal Bridges exhibition themed cocktails like their Side(ways) Car, created for the current Stuart Davis exhibition.
A nightcap at MOD Restaurant and Social:
It seems that the philosophy of “think globally, act locally” has found itself firmly rooted in Bentonville, with MOD proving no exception. With a locally sourced mindset, the extensive cocktail menu will have you travelling the world with concoctions ranging between the buxom Daikaiju (Jinro Soju, Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Sake, Orgeat, Sparkling Grape Juice, Fresh Lime, Angostura Bitters, and Acid Phosphate) and a light (and downright cute) drink called an Earl Yay! (Falernum, Citadelle Gin, Zirbenz, Pineau de Charentes, Earl Grey, Lemon, Demerara, Tiki Bitters).
Grab a bike!
Because that’s just what you do in Bentonville.
Head to Brunch at The Pressroom:
While it’s certainly tempting to go back to The Hive to order whatever brunch item had you asking the waiter to come back in five, you’d be remiss not to visit the local trendy hotspot. Whether you get their Press-trami Hash (house-smoked corned beef, potato, and onions topped with two eggs and grilled bread) or the Carrot Cake Waffles (with maple cream cheese frosting and candied pecans), be sure to get their boozey Cold Brooze (cold brew coffee with Baileys, cardamaro (cardamom+amaro), lavender simple, and your choice of vodka or bourbon).
Get Post-Colonial at Museum of Native American History:
In the museum’s own words—”the History of the United States is usually thought of as being discovered in the 1500s by explorers like Columbus, Desoto, and Cortez, but there is a much more ancient history that remains untold.” We could not agree more. Starting as far back as the Paleolithic period, the MONAH offers a broad, comprehensive portrait of Native American history through time, correcting dominant colonial narratives and showcasing its large collection of artifacts. Plus, museum admission is free here too!
Tour the Peel Mansion Museum & Heritage Gardens:
Rumor has it that you can sometimes hear the ghost of little Minnie Belle Peel playing the piano through the halls of the Peel Mansion. Haunted or not, the grounds of Colonel Peel’s property are worth touring for a charming trip through time. A guided tour will take you through the estates collection of period antiques, as well as the gardens historic roses, perennials, and native plants. And if you do hear the distinct tinkering of piano keys, don’t worry! The ghosts are reported to be quite friendly.
Bike back down to The Walmart Museum (we’re not kidding):
When in Rome, right? Plus, the Walmart Museum is open until 9pm and it's free, so there’s really no excuse.
Dinner at the Hive:
The recurring problem you’ll likely have in Bentonville is having to choose from the menus. It’s really not fair to have so many mouth watering options. The Ricotta Cavatelli with cured pork, shaved brussels and walnuts highlights the local fare, as does the Mixed Lettuce with spiced black walnuts and sorghum vinaigrette. There’s also the pasture-raised local chicken with Parisian gnocchi, kale, and ...roasted grapes? Roasted grapes! Just be sure to save room for a dessert cocktail like the Buffalo River Float—a black walnut bourbon with local root beer and buttermilk ice cream, topped with a cherry brandy drizzle. Oh, and did we mention that the menu is locally sourced?