Crystal Bridges, UA Emphasizes Collaboration on Art History Curriculum

FAYETTEVILLE — A written agreement outlines collaboration between the University of Arkansas and the nonprofit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that will extend to graduate students in an art history graduate program which will soon be launched.

“Degrees and official documents will accurately reflect the collaborative nature of the program and the two participating institutions,” reads a memorandum of understanding between the state’s largest university and the Bentonville Museum.

The memorandum — released under the state’s public disclosure law — is titled as an agreement between the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees and Crystal Bridges “for the operation of a master’s program of Arts in Art History, Arts of the Americas”.

University administrators in March approved the 2023 launch of what will be the state’s only graduate art history program.

The terms of the agreement state that UA and Crystal Bridges – founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton – will be able to conduct reviews to “determine the feasibility of its continuation”.

The memorandum states that “both institutions agree to offer the program for at least five years” to “ensure stable deployment of the program”, with reviews taking place “at least” every three years.

UA in 2017 announced a $120 million donation to support arts education from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, established by members of the Walton family.

Students in the program will be “fully funded” by an art history graduate endowment that is part of Walton’s $120 million gift, acting AU Chancellor Charles Robinson told administrators in March.

Walton’s donations from another foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, to Crystal Bridges exceeded $1.36 billion, according to data posted on the foundation’s website.


Graham Bader, chair of the art history department at Rice University in Houston, said graduate art history programs “probably take place most often in institutions that are closely related to a museum. “.

But even with close working relationships, “there has to be some kind of clear structural authority,” Bader said.

“I think it’s important, again, to clarify those roles, in terms of, the museum doesn’t run the graduate program, the university runs the graduate program, because that’s where that it’s hosted,” Bader said.

UA spokesperson Mark Rushing questioned whether UA was solely responsible for curriculum design and course requirements for the Master of Arts or Masters program, said in an email: “Yes, course design and the Master of Arts in the Americas program is led and designed by the Art History Program Art History faculty have collaborated and will continue to collaborate with [Crystal Bridges] curatorial staff to develop unique learning experiences and overarching curriculum ideas for course content. »

K. Angel Horne, spokesperson for Crystal Bridges, described the collaboration in developing the main themes of the program.

“Yes, we have brought our respective expertise to conversations about program focus and themes as well as lesson ideas. We look forward to active dialogue and collaboration as the program develops,” Horne said in an email.

Documents presented to UA system administrators ahead of their March meeting stated that “courses and academic support services will be institutionally located within the university, which provides oversight of the program.”


In the academic field of art history, schools often tout their links with museums.

Rice University launched a doctoral program in art history in 2008, and Bader said the university has stepped up its art history offerings in part because of the school’s proximity to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and what is called the Menil Collection.

“Art history is a discipline that’s about objects, it’s about original works of art. So to really study that at a high level, you want to have access to those works of art, not just reproductions in a book,” Bader said.

Some colleges with art history programs have access to university art museums, such as at Yale and the University of Michigan, Bader said.

Elsewhere, independent schools and museums accept various types of arrangements.

For example, the University of Denver, on its MA in Art History webpage, claims to have “official partnerships” with local museums, including the Denver Art Museum.

A formal collaboration known as the Chicago Objects Study Initiative pairs two private universities, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, with a museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.

Close and collaborative relationships are central to a few art history degree programs in the United States.

Case Western Reserve University, a private college in Cleveland, describes on its website that it has “a joint program with the Cleveland Museum of Art.”

Williams College, a private college in Massachusetts, has its art history graduate program “physically located” at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, described as a “senior collaborator” on the program’s website.


The UA and Crystal Bridges agreement was signed by the museum’s executive director, Rod Bigelow, and three university leaders: Terry Martin, acting provost; Todd Shields, Dean of AU Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences; and Gerry Snyder, executive director of the UA School of Art.

The written agreement sets out the “obligations” for the museum and Bentonville University while stating that the terms “will be reviewed and negotiated annually.”

UA will administer program admissions and manage other aspects of the program, in accordance with the written agreement.

“Students will apply for admission, gain admission, enroll, pay tuition, and apply for graduation through AU. Students will be officially registered with AU, and record keeping of students and future versions of transcripts will be managed by AU,” states the agreement, which also states that “all aspects of the program will be subject to the policies of the University of Arkansas.”

The agreement also states that UA will “retain all tuition and revenue from the program.”

The MoU states that the museum commits to “place up to 6 master’s students per year in internships of 8 to 10 hours per week in various departments of the museum.”

Crystal Bridges will also “make every effort to consider the aims and needs of the MA program in the museum’s expansion plans”.

Roles specified for each include that “approved” museum curators “obtain appropriate faculty status at AU”, with the agreement stating that “the university’s graduate school is responsible for verifying [Crystal Bridges] curators who apply for graduate professor status.

Rushing, the UA spokesperson, said curators at Crystal Bridges “will go through the hiring process to be appointed adjunct professors with the appropriate graduate professor status before they can teach in the program or oversee internships. “.


The agreement refers to the possibility for students to enroll in the graduate program in art history with financial support.

“The program, which will include the required registration for an internship under the program, is designed to provide financial support to students to cover the total estimated cost of attendance,” the agreement states, listing this in the obligations of the university.

Rushing said the university works with Crystal Bridges “to provide our students with access to highly qualified and experienced museum curators, internship opportunities and financial support.”

Commenting on the reviews mentioned in the MoU, Crystal Bridges spokesperson Horne said in an email that “this type of review allows both institutions to regularly assess the partnership and ensure we work together to advance common goals and adjust as necessary.”

Horne said “staff time and preparation, as well as course effectiveness” will be factors in how the museum assesses the “sustainability and feasibility” of the program.

“We will also measure the success of student placements in various departments of the museum,” added Horne.

Austen Barron Bailly, the museum’s chief curator, said in a statement that having a close relationship with AU “provides more applied learning for students and allows curators to gain distinct next-generation perspectives and insights.” of academics”.

John Blakinger, director of the art history program at UA and associate professor of art history, gave details in a statement about how the degrees will reference Crystal Bridges.

“The degree will be issued by the University of Arkansas, but our collaboration with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will be recognized by a notation on the transcript and degree,” Blakinger said.

Ryan H. Bowman