Mission and History

Museum Mission
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Where the power of art engages the spirit of community.

We welcome and provide free admission to all, and deliver unparalleled opportunities to enjoy, appreciate and understand the finest visual arts and the varied cultures they represent—on our campus, online, and throughout Kansas City.

As an institution of national and international renown, we establish and adhere to the highest professional standards and practices in research, scholarship, presentation, interpretation and care of our collections.

We serve as a vital partner in the educational, social and cultural life of our community, using our collections and programs to build an environment where people can gather, share and contemplate the greatest creations of humankind.

Every day, in all we do, the Nelson-Atkins is committed to nurturing excellence, inspiring creativity and building community through the power of art.

Museum History
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art arose from the instincts and ambitions of two private individuals who shared the dream of providing a public art museum for Kansas City and the surrounding region.

William Rockhill Nelson, founder of The Kansas City Star, was convinced that for a city to be truly civilized, art and culture were necessities. When he died in 1915, the bulk of his estate was used to establish the William Rockhill Nelson Trust for the purchase of works of art “which will contribute to the delectation and enjoyment of the public generally.”

Kansas City school teacher Mary McAfee Atkins had similar aspirations for her city. Although relatively unknown, she provided the city with approximately one-third of her million-dollar estate to purchase the land for a public art museum.

The Nelson estate was combined with Mary Atkins’ legacy to build an art museum for the people of Kansas City. The William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and the Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts opened to the public on Dec. 11, 1933.

On June 9, 2007, the Nelson-Atkins unveiled the Bloch Building, an addition designed by Steven Holl Architects, which increased gallery and storage space for the growing collection.

Today, the Nelson-Atkins currently maintains collections of more than 35,000 works of art and welcomes 500,000 visitors a year.