Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Arkansas is America too."

Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Alice Walton's new Crystal Bridges Museum is "a moral tragedy" and a "compelling symbol of the chasm between the richest Americans and everyone else."  He says the museum was built on "the exploitation" of the Wal-Mart employees "whose sweat pays for her paintings."  He objects to Walton's "priorities":  she "has the influence to help Wal-Mart workers, especially women, earn more money and gain access to affordable health care," but instead uses her wealth to buy art for the museum.

Reuters' Felix Salmon has a good response here, under the headline "How Alice Walton has improved America."  He says, first of all, that the "sneer[ing]" Goldberg is looking a gift horse in the mouth:

"It’s not clear that Alice Walton does have a lot of influence within Walmart’s senior managerial ranks. Could Walton really help Wal-Mart’s workers earn more money and get better healthcare? Maybe she could; I’m not convinced. But here’s the thing: in what way does building a beautiful museum prevent her from doing just that? The only way, it seems to me, is if we’re in some kind of a zero-sum game, here, where the alternative to building the museum would be for Walton to take the money she would otherwise have spent on Crystal Bridges, and give it directly to Walmart workers."

And he says Walton's "impulses and her museum are admirable, whatever you think of Walmart":

"Walmart is a public company, now — it’s owned by hundreds of thousands of individual and institutional shareholders. ...Walmart has been good to Alice Walton, and she’s giving back to Bentonville and to America by building a fine museum in a part of the country which is relatively starved for cultural goodness. ... Well done to [Walton] for making that happen. Arkansas is a better place, now, thanks to Crystal Bridges, and Walton deserves our thanks. Not brickbats."

Judith Dobrzynski is with Salmon:

"Unlike many others in the art world, I have always believed that Walton was doing a good thing, bringing art to an area that sorely lacked the real thing. I have never understood the logic of those who complained about her efforts, as if non-city-dwellers should be content to travel to see art, and then, at the same time, argued for bigger government budgets for art .... I have no problem with the fact that she bought Kindred Spirits from the New York Public Library."