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Crystal Bridges Accounting: How Much Did Alice’s Palace Cost?


The first lines of Crystal Bridges’ 2009 tax return

[For how much the art cost, go here. For my review of the architecture, go here. Additional CultureGrrl commentary and videos on Crystal Bridges are here, here and here.]

Many press reports about the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, have mentioned the more than $1.2 billion in 2010 contributions (including $800 million for endowment) provided last year by the Walton Family Foundation, for which the museum’s founder, Alice Walton, serves as a board member.

But what about the benefactions from previous years? That information is contained in the museum’s Form 990-PF tax returns for calendar years 2005-2010—available, for the most part, online. During my recent visit to the museum, I obtained the 2010 filing, not yet posted at the above link.

So now let’s sharpen our pencils and do the math:

The grand total of “contributions, gifts, grants, etc.” received over the six years of tax returns is some $1.6 billion. The total from the Walton Family Foundation alone was about $1.34 billion, which included not only the $800-million endowment infusion but also $403 million in 2010 for artwork, operating expenses and construction. That $403 million appears to have included donated art and library materials, valued on the return at $137.29 million. [UPDATE: The museum's spokesperson has now confirmed to me that the art and library materials were indeed part of the $403 million.] Another major contributor, in 2005, was Alice’s late mother Helen Walton (widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam), who gave $250 million in cash and 65 acres of land valued at $2.51 million.

Crystal Bridges’ “expenses for charitable activities” (not just construction) totaled some $508.57 million from 2005-2010.

As I’ve previously mentioned, the museum refuses to divulge the cost of its ambitious construction project. I’ve gotten different reasons for this secrecy, depending on whom I’ve asked. I suspect the real reason may be the same as one of the reasons for its long delay in disclosing the full scope of its collection: Having already endured many potshots, museum officials are gun shy—especially in light of charges by some critics that it’s unseemly for Wal-Mart heirs to lavish megabucks on a cultural mecca, while Wal-Mart is allegedly shortchanging employees. (I do not subscribe to that line of argument. While reasonable people will disagree, I believe that an art museum is a worthwhile charitable cause.)

While we as yet have no idea about the total cost of Crystal Bridges’ sprawling Bentonville campus, we can add up the payments made to the architect and the builders by perusing the 990s: The listed disbursements to the firm of architect Moshe Safdie through 2010 amount to some $16 million. The primary construction firm, Fort Worth-based Linbeck-Nabholz, received some $75.08 million, with $49.26 million of that earned last year alone.

And what about the outlays for art?

The tax returns for 2005-08 list a total of $277.64 million under “art acquisitions.” But there’s no such category for 2009 or 2010. For those two years, there’s a new category—”museum procurement”—totaling some $167.8 million. But this could be money used to “procure” furnishings and other necessities for the new museum, not art. I’m awaiting clarification on this from the museum and will update here, if and when I get it.

As 990 wonks know, these tax returns also list the salaries of museum officers. The 2010 compensation for director Don Bacigalupi was $600,000.

Next fall, when the 2011 tax return goes online, we’ll likely see a much more diverse list of contributors than has been reported thus far. Here are the inaugural rosters of benefactors, now publicly credited on the museum’s walls. Other than those contributing to the “Next Generation Fund” (addressing social, educational and economic barriers to museum participation), the listed donors are almost exclusively corporations:




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