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Rice is enjoying an Arkansas Renaissance

Joe David Rice

Delegates to Travel South Showcase February 17-20 who have not been to Arkansas or Little Rock in the past decade are in for an eye-opening experience.

If there is a Southern state that has successfully heightened its national profile over the past decade or so, it is Arkansas. The William J. Clinton Presidential Center opened in 2004 and has sparked a downtown renaissance in Little Rock. And now, across the state in northwest Arkansas, a world-class art museum has been created through the efforts of Alice Walton of the founding family for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., further catapulting this state’s ascension as a major travel destination in America.

“Crystal Bridges Museum has really transformed the image of Arkansas,” said Joe David Rice, tourism director for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and longtime board member of Travel South USA. “Alice Walton’s gift to this state has afforded us international prominence in the art world, and we’re excited to show this magnificent complex to tour operators and media attending Travel South Showcase in February.”

The first year of Crystal Bridges’ visitation has been remarkable.

“The museum projected a first-year visitation of 250,000, and instead, they drew 604,000,” said Rice. “The building alone is worth the visit.”

Designed by noted architect Moshe Safdie, the complex complements its distinctive outdoor setting through the use of trails, sculptures and gardens. Crystal Bridges already has relationships in place with the High Museum in Atlanta and the Louvre in Paris for sharing exhibitions, an indication of the esteem in which it is held.

Boutique hospitality company 21c Museum Hotels will open a signature property nearby this spring. Its first hotel, the 21c in Louisville, Kentucky, was recently named by Condé Nast readers as the best hotel in the South. The Bentonville hotel is being built a block off the town square and will be connected to Crystal Bridges by a walking trail.

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.