Nestled among 120 acres of Ozark woodlands in Bentonville, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is more than a museum; it’s a destination, an economic development tool and a mesmerizing tribute to the history of American art, whose significance extends far beyond the borders of The Natural State.

Envisioned by Walmart heiress Alice Walton and named for the nearby Crystal Spring, the museum’s architecture – designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie – is inspired by its picturesque surroundings and aimed at enhancing and protecting the natural beauty of the site while maintaining a high level of sustainability.

Eight individually-designed pavilions, which house galleries, meeting and classroom spaces and an auditorium, are arranged around two spring-fed ponds, says the museum’s Executive Director Don Bacigalupi. Several of the buildings double as suspension bridges with glass walls overlooking the ponds and landscape.

“The buildings are all nestled deep in the ravine, so that nature is all-encompassing,” he explains. “And their materials – native Arkansas Pine, concrete and glass – make a strong connection with the natural setting.” More than 3 miles of sculpture and walking trails link the museum’s 120-acre forested park and gardens to downtown Bentonville.

“The experience for each guest will be truly unique, traversing the woods to discover this magnificent complex, going inside one building and having an art experience, then passing to an outdoor view and ‘reconnecting’ with the landscape before venturing into the next indoor gallery filled with great works of art. This rhythm of art, architecture and nature will be one of the most stimulating and refreshing ways to experience art anywhere in the world,” says Bacigalupi. “The museum instantly reinforces our distinction as the ‘The Natural State’ and also makes us ‘the cultural state’ too.”

Crystal Bridges is slated to open Nov. 11, 2011, and will house permanent and temporary exhibits of American artworks from the Colonial era to modern times, including works by Norman Rockwell, John Koch, Wayne Thiebaud, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Uttech and Andy Warhol, among others.

In total, the museum features five permanent collection galleries, a temporary exhibition gallery and an outdoor sculpture trail. The space also includes a 3,000-square-foot Museum Store, a Museum Café and a Museum Library, with a print and electronic research collection that contains more than 50,000 items for museum staff, scholars, volunteers, teachers and the community to utilize.

The city of Bentonville is eager to embrace the museum and the good it will bring to the area and the state as a whole.

“The opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will have a greater impact on Northwest Arkansas growth in the shortest period of time than any previous event,” says Bob McCaslin, mayor of Bentonville. “The museum’s anticipated 250,000 annual visitors will spark growth in a variety of business sectors that will address art-, culture- and hospitality-related services. Bentonville is currently known as the city where the world comes to do business. Tomorrow’s Bentonville will be a destination for travelers seeking a cultural experience. Bentonville and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will be where the world comes to see a superb collection of American art housed in a one-of-a-kind architectural masterpiece located in a beautiful natural setting.”

Many of the artworks can be viewed on Crystal Bridges’ website, But, as Bacigalupi says, it’s going to be a major revelation for the world (and for all of us) to see the collection in its entirety in the galleries. “Trust me when I say it is one of the most dazzling and glorious collections of American art anywhere.”

Bacigalupi would know. After earning his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in art history with a concentration in American art of the 20th century, the New York native taught art history at the University of Texas in Austin before diving into museum management. Since that time, he’s been curator of contemporary art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, director and chief curator of the University of Houston’s Blaffer Gallery and director of the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. In 2003, he moved to Toledo and spent six years overseeing the construction and opening of the renowned Glass Pavilion as the director of the Toledo Museum of Art.

But it’s Crystal Bridges that gets his undivided attention now. “As the first great American art museum of the 21st century, the importance of Crystal Bridges cannot be overestimated, for the nation and for our place in the world,” he said. “I and my team think a lot about the decisions we make affecting the future of this museum and its communities for the next several generations. We take that responsibility very seriously and want to ensure that we make the museum accessible, inviting and welcoming, exciting and relevant, vibrant and sustainable. Museums can do so much in communities and in the world, and I have the pleasure of working in a great one.”