Connections: Bentonville, Arkansas with Musuem Director Jill Wagar
This week, we delved deeper into one of the most quickly growing towns in the Ozarks– an outdoor and artistic mecca that the Wall Street Journal recently went so far as to label a “new capital of cool:” Bentonville, Arkansas. Founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton in 2011, Crystal Bridges Museum’s architectural grandeur and first-class collection of American art was one key factor in the small town’s journey to cultural acclaim. We spoke with Jill Wagar, the Deputy Director at Crystal Bridges and Interim Director at the Momentary to discover what makes Bentonville special.
At All Roads North, we believe that a place is nothing without its people. So often, when we ask our clients the most memorable parts of their journey, it’s not the Instagram-worthy landscape or acclaimed hotel that they mention, it’s the encounters they had along the way. That’s why our trips are carefully designed to make those connections, providing you with an authentic and immersive experience. These experiences– whether it be with a local craftsman, musician, chef or marine biologist– are the inspiration for our Connections series, where we talk to friends of All Roads North to get an insider’s look at some of our favorite places across the U.S.
Tell us about your Bentonville story?
Bentonville became my family’s hometown in 2005 and has been an exceptional place to raise our family. Little did I know I would have the extraordinary opportunity to be on the founding staff of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011 and its second location, the Momentary, in 2020. Today I’m serving as the Deputy Director of Crystal Bridges and the Interim Director of the Momentary.
What three words sum up Bentonville for you?
Vibrant, Collaborative, Entrepreneurial. If I had two more words they would be friendly and innovative.
What’s something that Bentonville does better than anywhere else?
While Bentonville is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, its residents work hard to keep the historic and quaint identity of the town. It is captured well by USA Today who described Bentonville as Manhattan dressed as Mayberry.
What well-known “tourist attraction” lives up to the hype?
In just over a decade, Crystal Bridges has become one of the most visited museums in the country, and for good reason. Five centuries of American art, 120 acres of trails to explore, stunning architecture, and stellar food draw visitors from across the globe.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to wander?
Downtown Bentonville is the place to be. A new restaurant or bar is popping up all the time, music plays on the downtown square, and boutiques and galleries abound. Saturday morning farmer’s market is a must!
Underrated in Bentonville, overrated in Bentonville, personal favorite, and recent discovery?
A not-to-miss gem is the Museum of Native American History. The Scott Family Amazeum is hands-on fun for kids of any age. For adults, the Tower Bar at the Momentary overlooking the growth of the town with delicious cocktails is a favorite. And, of course, visit the iconic Walmart Museum, featuring the original Walton 5 & 10 and the Spark Café (don’t miss the ice cream!)
What’s your Sunday morning in Bentonville?
Grab a latte at Onyx Coffee Lab or a smoothie from Sunny’s while reading the Sunday paper, then head over to Louise for an amazing brunch while watching the planes at Thaden Field. Afternoon could be a walk on the trails, a visit to the latest exhibition at Crystal Bridges, poolside at Blake St. House, or the latest movie at the boutique Skylight Cinema. We always check the calendar for concerts, lectures, culinary programs, and other amazing offerings happening around town.
What restaurant do you take friends from out of town for dinner, a casual local’s favorite, and a weekend brunch?
The cuisine at Bar Cleeta is one of our guests’ favorites, especially paired with their incredible wine list. Preacher’s Son, situated in a former church, is always a hit. My husband and I love street tacos from Yeyo’s Mexican Grill or fresh fish from Blu Fish House. PressRoom, Tusk & Trotter, and Table Mesa – all on the square – serve a scrumptious brunch.
Where do you go to get into nature?
Some of my favorites are the art trails at Crystal Bridges, the walk from the museum to the Bentonville square by Compton Gardens, the nature walk to the gorgeous Mildred Cooper Chapel designed by E. Fay Jones, the bike ride (or walk) at Coler Mountain Bike Preserve to enjoy Airship coffee, or Tanyard Creek Nature Trail. A short drive away to Boxley Valley (look for elk!), young families love hiking Lost Valley. More adventurous hikers love picturesque Hawksbill Crag. Floating the historic (first national river) Buffalo River is a fun rite of passage for those in Northwest Arkansas. My family also loves flyfishing in the Beaver tailwaters on the White River.
What trends are you noticing in Bentonville right now?
The quality of life is drawing families and the working class to relocate from national locations to Bentonville. Many are drawn by the hundreds of miles of biking trails – we are known as the Mountain Biking Capital of the World. Co-working spaces are popping up (the Ledger is the world’s first bikeable building) to serve professionals who are working locally or remotely to other parts of the U.S. but have chosen to live in Bentonville.
What role has Crystal Bridges and the Momentary played in Bentonville’s growth, both in regards to the town’s art scene and in general?
Crystal Bridges and the Momentary have played pivotal roles in transforming Bentonville into a thriving cultural and artistic hub. Beyond inspiring the town’s art scene, they have had a broader impact on its economy through tourism and other economic drivers.
Contact us here to start planning your unique journey to Bentonville. Depending on your preferences, All Roads North specializes in facilitating unique experiences beyond the typical museum visit. For example, we can arrange a private art expert to lead you in a deep dive of Crystal Bridge’s architecture or American art collections. For an even more immersive experience, we recommend a private dinner party in the Frank Lloyd Wright house. Begin the evening with a cocktail in hand while walking with an architecture expert through the house and grounds. End with a customized, five-course meal and wine pairing.