Monday, June 11, 2007

Wal-Mart Heiress's Museum Unnerves Art Elite

Wal-Mart Heiress's Museum Unnerves Art Elites -
Newsweek Entertainment -

I am not a fan of Wal-Mart. I find their stores to be overcrowded and disorganized, with not a single helpful person in sight. And, as a media producer, I am well aware of their massive economic power as the major "buyer" of creative content. The conservative political views of the Wal-Mart corporation, combined with their influence in the buying chain, means that unless we, the consumers, start to pay attention, we may find ourselves struggling to access any content that does not meet Wal-Mart's conservative "moral" standards.

All that said, I applaud Alice Walton's investment in the arts. And, I was taken aback at the vicious, racist tone of the comments on the article. People seem to think that Wal-Mart is solely responsible for American workers being downsized, outsourced, and outperformed. There is a whole lot more wrong with our politics, our economic policies, and our work ethic than Wal-Mart can possibly be responsible for.

I posted this comment on the Newsweek site, hoping to bring a bit of historical perspective into the dialogue. "Ruthless Industrialists" also happen to be our most avid art patrons, and it's a good thing!

(To The Editors)
Alice Walton is following in the long, distinguished tradition of philanthropy practiced by our nation’s powerful, wealthy, industrialist families. The United States, founded on a belief in the power of hard work and entrepreneurship, has built its “culture” in the same way that it built its economy – through deliberate investment in the long term by families who believed in the value of knowledge, as well as the acquisition of wealth.

Members of the Rockefeller family founded both MoMA (New York’s unparalleled Museum of Modern Art) and the Asia Society. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (an heir to the Vanderbilt shipping/railroad fortune) founded the Whitney Museum, one of the world's foremost collections of twentieth-century American art. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles was established with his publishing/newspaper fortune. The Ford Family Foundation, whose goals are to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement, was established in the early 20th century by Henry and Edsel Ford. The list goes on and on.

The United States does not have a tradition of expansive public funding of cultural institutions, as do major European cultural centers like Britain, France, Italy, etc. We are a capitalist nation, and if developing our cultural resources and legacy depended on meeting a bottom line, we would be in trouble.

Thank goodness for patrons like Alice Walton, who recognizes that given her good fortune and great wealth, she has an obligation to give back. It seems obvious to me that all the hoopla around her art investing is pure snobbery because the Walton family is from Arkansas, and not part of the East Coast/West Coast “aristocracy.”
Liz Nealon

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