Wal-Mart family’s $800-million art museum gift is stupendous -- but not a record


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It makes for a good story, but the munificent $800-million gift from the family that owns Wal-Mart, meant to endow programs and operations at Alice Walton’s under-construction art museum in rural Arkansas, is not the largest such gift ever made to a U.S. art museum.

Not even close. In the battle of the billionaires, that gilded record is still easily held by J. Paul Getty, whose bequest to his eponymous Los Angeles art museum was three times larger.


The Walton gift was announced Wednesday. With the possible exception of the Getty, most any art museum in the nation would give its eyeteeth for the philanthropic generosity that has just landed on the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Friday’s Wall Street Journal compared the two gifts, asserting that the ‘gift from the Walton Family Foundation trumps the $660 million in oil stocks that J. Paul Getty bequeathed’ to his museum in 1976. Adjusted for inflation, however, Getty’s bequest 35 years ago amounts to nearly $2.5 billion today.

The online Journal story (and its Twitter feed) did hedge its bets a bit, describing the Walton pledge as ‘the largest cash donation ever.’ Getty’s stocks had to be converted to cash.

The Walton pledge puts $350 million into an endowment allocated for operating expenses, which are expected to run about $16 million annually. A second fund of $325 million is earmarked for art acquisitions. The remaining $125-million endowment is slated for upkeep on the 201,000-square-foot complex, scheduled to open in Bentonville, home of the retailer’s headquarters, on Nov. 11.

Forbes lists four Waltons and their family members among the 10 wealthiest Americans, with a combined net worth in excess of $84 billion.


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-- Christopher Knight