Walton Foundation Provides $120M to University School of Art

The largest gift ever given to a university school of art was announced this week at the University of Arkansas.

The unprecedented gift of $120 million from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation will go to the Northwest Arkansas university to establish the School of Art. The gift creates the state's only university school of art, and it will propel art education and research in the state forward while also providing unparalleled access and opportunity to students.

The gift helps 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,” Hodges 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 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 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 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,” Steinmetz 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 scholarships, travel grants and internship opportunities.

  • Engaging the region in outreach and public service through partnerships with Crystal Bridges 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 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.”