One Moment At A Time: New venue on cutting edge of contemporary art

One Moment At A Time: New venue on cutting edge of contemporary art

Since the 2016 announcement that the former Kraft Foods cheese plant in Bentonville would be converted to a multidisciplinary arts venue, the region has eagerly awaited its unveiling. The moment of excitement finally arrived on Feb. 22 when the Momentary opened its doors with a triumphant grand opening celebration during the inaugural TIME BEING festival.

The Momentary is under the same nonprofit as its sister organization, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and was meant to expand Northwest Arkansas’ art offerings of the moment through its flexible 63,000 square feet of space — multi-use performance spaces, galleries, a restaurant, a rooftop bar and three studios for artist residencies, plus outdoor gathering spaces and an outdoor concert area under a canopy.

The Momentary, Bentonville’s new multidisciplinary contemporary arts space, is a satellite facility of and sister space to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The venue opened Feb. 22 and was forced to close due to the pandemic March 15. It reopened at limited capacity June 10 and has welcomed nearly 87,500 people this year.
(Courtesy Photo/the Momentary, Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside)

“The Momentary is a space for contemporary visual, performing and culinary arts and will serve as a living room for the community, offering areas to relax, work, eat and drink, and discover art through exhibitions, events, festivals and more,” Executive Director Lieven Bertels explained of the venue’s identity ahead of the opening.

The optimism and enthusiasm surrounding the Momentary’s debut took a sharp turn only a few weeks later as its staff, like everyone across the arts community, was suddenly confronted with operating a gathering space during a global pandemic. To mitigate the spread of covid-19, the new venue was closed before it had even been open a month.

Both institutions originally announced temporary closures from March 16 through March 31, with canceled programs and events through the following month. By early April, it was clear the situation was only worsening and more permanent solutions for operating during a pandemic would need to be explored.

“Thinking specifically about performance — which is based around getting everyone into this feeling of oneness — what does that look like in a digital sphere?” Pia Agrawal, performing arts curator, told What’s Up! in April. “The beauty of working with performing artists and contemporary artists is they have a really special skill of making us see the conversations we’re already having, but frame them a different way. Or making us see things that are already in our life through a different lens.”

Upon its opening, the Momentary hosted the “State of the Art 2020” exhibition in conjunction with Crystal Bridges. The trailblazing exhibition was the followup to CBM’s monumental “State of the Art: Discovering America’s Art Now” in 2014. That first iteration brought together the works of some 200 artists from across the country, mostly unknown, to examine the idea, “What is happening in American art today?”

Members of the group Bandaloop twirl through the air during a vertical dance performance at the Momentary. The performance was part of the TIME BEING festival, the Momentary’s inaugural performance art festival held during opening weekend.
(The Free Weekly/Ben Goff)

All the works in “State of the Art 2020” were created in 2016 or later, leaning into the concept that presenting a large number of living artists, currently creating, offers the viewer an immediate sense of some of the things happening in the art world at present, and where it may be going in the near future.

Following the closures, “State of the Art 2020,” along with the permanent collection and exhibitions at Crystal Bridges, were accessible online as both institutions, daily, found themselves exploring new ways to sustain connections to art and build relationships within the community.

The public was invited to interact with the Momentary through myriad content available on its website: artist interviews and video content from the “State of the Art 2020” and the opening weekend TIME BEING festival; interactive resources for weekly curated music playlists; Tower Bar cocktail recipes from beverage manager Jena Barker; Momentary-inspired coloring pages; yoga and meditation prompts; and more ways to #MOfromHOME.

Through these offerings, more than 10,860 guests have attended virtual programs, with more than 300,000 views of videos across the Momentary’s various platforms.

It was with jubilation — if also slight trepidation — that staff at both venues welcomed guests back on June 10. But the curatorial teams knew digital and “hybrid” programming would need to continue for some time. Of course, that time has since spilled into 2021.

“We continued to host virtual programs and slowly started integrating a few outdoor on-site options,” Bertels demonstrates of this period of hybridity. Over the latter half of the year, Momentary staff have ramped up efforts to increase awareness of its outdoor arts, culinary and active engagement opportunities.

“Programs like Sunday Reset and Beer, Bites, and Bocce Ball on the Momentary Green, concerts in the Arvest Bank Courtyard, and our outdoor RØDE Bar have been successful and served our community needs in terms of a way to enjoy outdoor offerings while also meeting state guidelines for safety,” Bertels says.

“State of the Art 2020” was the followup to Crystal Bridges’ 2014 exhibition of the same name and assembled work from 61 artists across 48 states. The exhibit examined the current state of art by displaying works from present-day creators and was the first temporary exhibition to fill the Momentary’s halls upon its opening.
(The Free Weekly/Flip Putthoff)

Inside, though the premier was pushed back because of the virus, the curatorial team was ecstatic to still be able to host the second scheduled temporary exhibition of the year: “Nick Cave: Until.” The immersive solo exhibition is the multidisciplinary artist’s largest and most ambitious project yet, and occupies the entire footprint of the Momentary through Jan. 3.

Looking to the new year, the Momentary is preparing for its one-year anniversary, as well as the beginning of its winter/spring exhibition schedule with three temporary exhibitions opening in February. Although, of course, it won’t be the party that was originally envisioned, everyone at the venue is looking forward to celebrating making it to the other side of such a strange first year.

“Our inaugural year was unexpected, to say the least,” Bertels admits, “yet this is exactly what we were meant to be: A purveyor of the present, a space that adapts, listens actively, and serves the needs of the community with an artistic reflection of the current moment.”


The Momentary

WHEN — Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; closed Mondays

WHERE — 507 S.E. E St. in Bentonville

COST — Free

INFO — 367-7500,

“The Journey” was named a New York Times Critic’s Pick and following an extended run with the Momentary — shared with 803 viewers from around the country — the show next traveled (virtually) to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif.
(Courtesy Photo/Journey Productions Limited)

And A Dash Of Magic

In September, despite a global pandemic, the Momentary debuted a virtual performative experience unlike anything that has ever been developed before.

Commissioned in collaboration with Scottish mentalist, illusionist and performance artist Scott Silven, the Momentary presented the world premiere of Silven’s new show “The Journey.”

Through clever projection, audiences were connected in real time with Silven, seeing themselves surrounding the mentalist on the walls of his home in Scotland. High quality audio and video production overcame the shortfalls often found in programs like Zoom.

The production was a completely new experience for Silven — as he had never tried to facilitate human connection through his performances from the other side of the globe — and for the world as “The Journey” utilized new technology developed specifically for this production.

Broadway and West End award-winning veterans Jeff Sugg (visuals) and Gareth Fry (sound), Tony Award-winner for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” designed the experience utilizing Streamweaver, a new system that integrates IT operations management. Streamweaver’s application and vast range of technologies were introduced to theatrical presentation for the first time with “The Journey.”

“We were kind of amazed that this sort of stuff just doesn’t exist in the industry so far,” Silven said ahead of the show’s debut.

“The Journey” was named a New York Times Critic’s Pick and following an extended run with the Momentary — shared with 803 viewers from around the country — the show next traveled (virtually) to The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif.

(Courtesy Photo/Journey Productions Limited)

Categories: Galleries