I have been to the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, and the Hermitage and ranking with them on my short list of favorite institutions is the Newark Museum, which lies just a half hour away from New York City via mass transit. If it were in Manhattan it would be a world renowned institution on par with the Met; stuck across the Hudson as it is, the museum remains one of the hidden gems of American cultural institutions. Why does Newark have such a vital museum? It is the old maxim that art follows money. Many once prosperous Gilded Age cities–Newark, Hartford, Rochester, and Toledo just to name a few–house some of the greatest collections ever assembled. Walk from Newark Penn Station to the museum and you will pass buildings that, if you look closely enough, still show the grandeur that Newark once was. (Thankfully Newark is reviving.) Most of the wealth generated in these Rust Belt cities is long gone, but the toys remain. Today the money has moved to places like Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Wal-Mart and the new Crystal Bridges Museum of Art.
My father lived in Arkansas and I believe the museum may be a tipping point for the Natural State. Arkansas is evolving into a Sun Belt destination, probably at the point where Florida was thirty and Arizona twenty years ago. The Clinton Library in Little Rock has been bringing people to the state for years now. The Crystal Bridges museum is the project of Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Wal-Mart has a considerable (to put it mildly) presence in Bentonville and when one travels there one sees the changes taking place. Bentonville is also the home of Pea Ridge National Military Park. I am eager to get back and check out this new museum on our next visit to the region.