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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Gregory B. Penner, chairman of the Wa

Walmart Inc. announced plans Tuesday morning to donate more than $22 million to improve Northwest Arkansas organizations that advocate for and promote the arts, recreation and health.

The gifts include about $17 million to keep artistic and recreational venues growing in the region, and more than $5 million in health care-related improvements, a company spokesman said.

Recipients of the $17 million include Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers and TheatreSquared in Fayetteville. The company said the funds will be geared toward sponsorship, expansion and construction costs or, in the case of Crystal Bridges, continued free admission.

"Walmart is proud to give back locally in the community where we operate," Dan Bartlett, executive vice president of Walmart's corporate affairs, said in a statement. "Our success is intertwined with the success of the region."

Through these grants, Walmart is renewing its sponsorship of the Arkansas Music Pavilion, owned by the Walton Arts Center, for 30 years; supporting a new art space in Bentonville called the Momentary; and investing in TheatreSquared's plans to build a 30,000-square-foot complex with two theaters, apartments, offices and a cafe.

In addition to the arts grants, the retailer's philanthropic arm, the Walmart Foundation, announced more than $5 million in grants for recipients Mercy Health Foundation and Northwest Arkansas Community College.

Bartlett, along with Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation, announced the grants Tuesday at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, where sponsorship tents are in place for a women's professional golf tournament scheduled for this weekend.

Last year, the company made more than $1.4 billion in donations, including $1 billion worth of food. The company said Tuesday's grants were given to "enhance the quality of life for all residents," with a focus on regional planning, inclusion and access for residents. All organizations submitted grant applications through the Walmart Giving program, with the exception of the golf tournament.

Part of the $22 million was used to renew Walmart's title sponsorship of the Northwest Arkansas Championship, a Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament, for another two years. Harry Hardy, tournament director, said the retailer has been a lead sponsor of the tournament since 2010.

"With the announcement today we saw a renewed commitment from Walmart investing in the quality of our region, and I think the tournament is part of that," said Hardy, who has lived in Northwest Arkansas for six years.

"That's really at the core of what the LPGA tour is," he said. "For one week, we get to provide the area with world-class events and shine a spotlight on how special a place this is."

Robert Ford, TheatreSquared's artistic director, said plans for a new theater complex have been in the works for more than three years.

"What it means for us to be mentioned among these peers is a remarkable achievement," Ford said. "We love to be standing next to the Walton Arts Center and Crystal Bridges here, where we can celebrate what great cultural resources are being built in Northwest Arkansas."

TheatreSquared established a $34 million campaign to raise money for its new arts space. With help from donors like Walmart, the theater has met over 60 percent of its goal, Ford said.

"We have another $11 million to work toward," he said.

Ford envisioned the new TheatreSquared complex in Fayetteville to be like what Crystal Bridges is to Bentonville.

The Walmart Foundation has been working with TheatreSquared in recent years on a program that allows low-income families, those who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and adults under 30 to attend productions for free or for only $5 or $10.

Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer of Crystal Bridges, said the organization will receive $5 million in grant funds, with $3 million covering admission fees and $2 million for a new project called the Momentary, located in a former Kraft plant.

The multiuse art space, overseen by the Crystal Bridges team, will be used to attract artists in theater, dance, music and the visual arts.

Bigelow said early planning began in late 2016. Blueprints show plans for small studio spaces, a small black-box theater, an amphitheater, bars and cafes, and outdoor and indoor gathering spaces.

The site of the 60,000-square-foot project in downtown Bentonville is about a mile south of Crystal Bridges. A completion date is set for early 2020.

Peter Lane, president and chief executive officer of the Walton Arts Center, said the organization forward with first phase of a master plan to expand and improve the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. The first phase has a 2020 completion date. Lane said the grants also extend Walmart's title sponsorship with the venue to 2044. He didn't say how much the organization received.

Clark Ellison, regional vice president of Mercy Health, said Walmart's contributions will help the organization build a 7-story wing at its hospital in Rogers and place six new health clinics in Washington and Benton counties.

These projects will create about 1,100 jobs for the region, Ellison said.

Mercy has reached $15 million in funding so far, more than half of its $25 million fundraising goal, with help from Walmart.

Northwest Arkansas Community College plans to use Walmart's grant for a new building in Washington County, increasing its ability to educate students entering health-related fields.

Business on 06/20/2018

Print Headline: Retailer gives out millions in grants; Walmart assists art, care groups

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