Alice Walton, a Trinity University alumna and heiress to Wal-Mart, discussed the newly built Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR in the packed Ruth Taylor Recital Hall on Feb. 18. Senior Trinity student Olivia Steiger led the discussion with Alice, a family friend and fellow Bentonvillian, about her experience here at Trinity and the impact it had on her life and pursuits.
Walton came to Trinity in 1969 and started out as a theatre major. During her time at Trinity, Walton allowed herself the freedom to explore various fields of study until finding what she truly wanted to do.
“I’m glad I wandered around and tried different things because all those things have been a part of the path that’s brought me here,” Walton said.
Walton also expressed the importance of the values her parents instilled in her and her brothers as children that continued to influence her as an adult.
“A lot of really important things happened here that molded my life. I probably started out like a lot of you. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up…History, particularly American history is one of my favorite things. My mom and dad were very patriotic and always impressed upon us how fortunate we were to live and worship and have the opportunities that we have in this country,” Walton said.
When asked about how her upbringing and education have guided her life recently, she recalled this important bit of advice:
“Whatever you have in life, you’ll find that the greatest joy is giving what you have, and I guess that’s the most important thing that’s stuck with me that I’ve learned from my family and other mentors along the way.”
Senior art major Jessie Dean appreciated Walton’s advice about living life with curiosity and a desire for experimentation.
“I think that was sound advice,” said Dean. “Having time to figure out what suits your interests is something that I think is true for Trinity.”
Alice eventually graduated with an economics and finance degree and started her career as an equity analyst for First Commerce Corporation. Since then, she has overseen the formation and served as the first chairperson of the Northwest Arkansas Council. She has also contributed to her local community through the Walton Family Foundation and the creation of Camp War Eagle, a Christian camp for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Walton has had an enduring love of art since her childhood that was encouraged by her parents, particularly her mother. It is this love of art that inspired her to build the museum in her hometown.
“I’ve always loved to draw. Even in grade school, I’d sit in my classes and doodle, and I’ve also always had a lifelong love of horses. Our parents would take us camping in the national parks each summer. I think it was one of the great experiences in our family life. While on those trips, I would take my watercolors and my charcoals and I would climb up on the mountain and draw the beautiful landscape,” Walton said.
Walton chose world-renown architect Moshe Safdie to design the museum. Impressed by his other projects and his ability to create a “sense of place,” the glass-and-wood design museum consists of a series of pavilions nestled around two creek-fed ponds.
“You’ll notice when seeing Crystal Bridges that there’s been a lot of thought and care behind it, and it really shows that [Alice Walton] is a lifelong learner, and I think that’s something we value here at Trinity,” said Oliva Steiger, senior.
Dean said that Walton’s humanitarianism was inspiring, and something she found “pretty fantastic.”
“You could tell how much art means to her and how she wanted to share that with her hometown,” Dean said. “Still, she did not stick around for questions, and I wish she had been a little more open in that regard.”