Friday, December 3, 2010
Waltons' Arts Center
The rich are different from you and me. They don't have to play by the rules, and they always get their way. If you believe that things are fair or that merit can ever beat money, you weren't paying attention at events in Fayetteville this week.
You will remember that the Walton Arts Center bought a survey that said they needed a 2,200 seat theater. Then they developed a very specific list of criteria that would determine the location of this new theater and asked for proposals. The University of Arkansas-City of Fayetteville proposal was far and away the best submitted among the 25 submitted. This week the WAC Facilities Committee and the WAC Board voted overwhelmingly to build the big theater in Bentonville at a site to be found later, those specific criteria be damned. City and University officials and local citizens were not even allowed to comment. Bullshit walked.
In fact, there was only one thing that determined the obsequious WAC Board's compliant decision -- what the billionaire Waltons wanted, where they wanted it, and how much money they might toss to transform the old Benton County Sale Barn into a palace for Broadway shows.
Here's what you can learn from this shameless charade and how you can start calling the shots about anything and everything in Northwest Arkansas, from playhouses to regional transportation infrastructure:
(1) Inherit billions of dollars;
(2) Invest a few million in an unaccountable private non-profit
(3) Hire a hand-picked over-paid flunky to run the organization
(4) Sponsor a slanted survey to feign interest in public opinion
(5) Fake the survey results and ignore the official criteria
(6) Make large campaign contributions to compliant politicians
(7) Spend your money however you want
(8) Be smug at the impotence of the unfunded opposition
This is the way things have always worked, and it would be naive to pretend otherwise. The unwashed should be thankful that the Waltons are spending money on the arts in Bentonville, a cultural wasteland that needs all the help it can get. I mean, they could have decided to build a bigger Christ of the Ozarks in Rogers to compete with the sacred projects of Gerald L. K. Smith.