Bentonville, Arkansas, located in the northwest corner of the state, is an art lover’s dream destination. Bentonville has something for everyone, with a thriving arts community and plenty of things to do and see.
Last fall, when my husband and I were planning to travel between Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Pawhuska, Oklahoma, I looked on the map for a place between the two to spend the night. I had always wanted to visit the Walmart Museum, so I decided Bentonville would be our stop.
Wow, were we in for a surprise. Bentonville is a small town that makes a big impression with all kinds of neat things to see and do. Yes, it is the Walmart Headquarters and home of Sam Walton, but did you know it is the Mountain Bike Capital of the World, or that Bentonville has one of the most famous art museums in the country?
The creative art scene is everywhere you look and literally stops you in your tracks. The town has a rich history of arts and culture, dating back to the early 1800s. Our visit was full of interesting tidbits of information and fun things to see and do.
Here are seven reasons why Bentonville should be at the top of your list of art destinations to explore.
1. Crystal Bridges Museum Of American Art
One of the most popular museums in the country, The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton. The town is very proud of this museum where art and nature merge.
Considered an architectural wonder, the museum is tucked into a natural ravine. A network of trails surrounds the museum, adorned with colorful Chihuly glass art installations. You will also find other massive art installations like the LOVE statue created by pop artist, Robert Indiana in the wooded area around the museum.
The trails and wooded areas are decorated with lights during the holidays for North Forest Lights, and it is a spectacular sight.
Museum visitors can tour the Bachman Wilson House, an example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s unique architecture. The house was dismantled from its New Jersey location and reassembled on the Crystal Bridges property.
An indoor art pavilion with glass walls overlooks several ponds. The art celebrates the American experience covering 200 years. You will find pieces from famous artists such as Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keefe.
I enjoyed the historical photos, but I especially liked some of the modern art. There was a room with neon-colored walls and balls hanging from the ceiling with black lights. Very 70s-ish! The exhibit was titled, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room ― My Heart is Dancing into the Universe. It was fun to walk through.
Pro Tip: The room is very popular, and you may have to wait in line to enter. When I visited, I had a 10-minute wait. The Infinity Mirrored Room is temporarily closed for maintenance, but stay up to date by checking the website.
2. Momentary Art Museum
I love seeing older buildings repurposed, which is what they did in Bentonville with the Momentary. A former cheese factory is now a contemporary art space for visual and performing arts. Anchoring the 8th Street Market District, The Momentary is Crystal Bridges’ satellite art space.
People visit The Momentary to see what’s new, to attend pop-up gatherings, and visit the cocktail lounge and coffee bar on-site. The 90-foot neon “You Belong Here” sign makes everyone feel welcome.
3. Public Art
Public art is everywhere in Bentonville. You will find murals as colorful backdrops on buildings, in alleys, along bike trails, on walking paths, and in other unexpected places. Some are whimsical and hidden pieces and others are big and bold. Some are neon pop art that is great for twilight photos.
Bentonville has a public arts committee that was formed to cultivate public art with the private sector. Their ultimate goal is to “improve accessibility of Bentonville’s public art collection with interpretive and educational materials.”
Public art enhances whatever you are experiencing. There are over 100 pieces of public art available to view.
One of my favorite public works of art was the Quilt project in Osage Park. The urban park has lots of recreation offerings and natural experiences. Walking trails, wetland boardwalks, pickleball courts, and more are available for visitors in the 12-acre park. I was impressed with how it was constructed for people with all abilities. The community has thought ahead in regard to accessibility.
4. Mountain Bike Trail Art
How many towns do you know that have art along their bike trails? Keeping with the theme of public art, those exploring Bentonville on two wheels will find over 100 art installments. They’ll also see sculptures featuring a bike theme popping up along 130 miles of trails. Many bikers find the need to stop and take a photo as they travel along.
Stacked, discarded, and mangled bike frames create massive bike towers. An 11-foot monster created from bike chains and covered in fur is located near the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Local artist Amanda Wilshire created the monster named Sassy the Sasquatch. She also created Monarch & Dandelion from discarded bike parts.
You can find art just about anywhere in Bentonville.
5. 21C Museum And Hotel
Have you ever visited an Art Hotel? You know you are visiting a fantastic place before you get to the building. The 21C Museum and Hotel are in the middle of downtown Bentonville just blocks from the city square. Outside is an antique car that is totally covered in coins. My husband and I posed in front of the car for a quick photo.
The hotel has 104 rooms and is on the floors above the museum, which is on the ground level. The gallery space is great for gatherings, live music, and other performing art programs.
I found the art inside the 21C Museum and Hotel to be captivating. The artists certainly had an eye for the unusual and the talent to create art using unique things, including human motion.
The 21C Museum and Hotel are within walking distance or a short drive from most other art venues in Bentonville.
6. Museum Of Native American History
You will need transportation to visit the Museum of Native American History, MONAH, but it is worth the drive. It provides the history of the Caddo, Quapaw, and Osage Nations. The goal of the Museum is to educate future generations about the lives of Native Americans (The First Americans). The museum serves as a cultural hub.
When we visited, they celebrated with colorful dancers performing on stage outdoors and traditional art in the museum.
MONAH houses over 10,000 unique Native American artifacts and walks visitors through 14,000 years of history spanning five time periods. They have permanent collections and those on loan.
One piece of art that I was drawn to was known as Lone Dog’s Winter Count. Native Americans used pictorial calendars for the Winter Counts. The year’s most memorable event was often symbolized on the calendar to provide a guide or reference for oral histories.
The Winter Counts were usually recorded on buffalo skin and then, as they became scarce, used linen, other cloth, and paper.
I found the hide fascinating. Long Dog’s Winter Count is a pictograph documenting 70 years of Yanktonais Nakota history beginning in 1800. It starts in the center of the hide and spirals outwards, recording many important events such as encounters with other Natives and non-Natives, diseases, and war.
The Museum of Native American History has a virtual tour.
7. In The Trees – Window Art
If you visit The Preacher’s Son restaurant, you will not only enjoy a delicious meal and attentive service, but you will enjoy viewing beautiful stained-glass windows. George Dombek created these masterpieces.
The Preacher’s Son is housed in a beautifully restored historic church near Bentonville City Square. The soaring art glass adds a distinctive touch to the fine-dining restaurant.
The windows look different during the day when the sun is shining through them compared to viewing them after dark. They are beautiful at both times. You will notice a bike hidden in the stained glass if you look carefully.
Bentonville is definitely a destination worth checking out if you’re an art lover. With the world-renowned museum-like Crystal Bridges, MONAH, public art installations all over town, and even art on the mountain bike trails, there’s always something new to see in this vibrant arts community. And if you need a place to rest your head after a day of exploring, the 21C Museum and Hotel offers luxury accommodations and rotating contemporary art exhibitions right in the heart of downtown.
Bentonville also offers many restaurants, shopping options, mountain biking, and other outdoor adventures. So what are you waiting for? Add Bentonville to your travel bucket list and start planning your artistic getaway today!