Nelson-Atkins Opening Day Crowd (1933)

Serving the Community

Since it opened its doors to the public in 1933, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has been strongly committed to serving the Kansas City community. Every decision made and every step taken is with the visitor and public in mind.

The precedent of reaching out to the community was set on Dec. 11, 1933, when the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts was unveiled to a staggering crowd—nearly 8,000 people crossed over the Museum threshold that cold winter day—and in one week’s passing 32,000 visitors had entered the building. Perhaps never before had Kansas Citians had so much to marvel at under one roof, and it seems they understood from that first encounter that this art museum was theirs, envisioned and realized as a grand gathering place for people and art.

Art for the sake of public enjoyment was explicit in William Rockhill Nelson’s will, and  still today the Museum strives to create an environment where people make personal connections with art. To encourage meaningful experiences, the Museum engages its public with programs that spark imagination, classes for all skill levels, special exhibitions of national reputation, improved and expanded facilities, partnerships that target underserved audiences, tours for adults and school children, professional development for teachers, dedicated visitor services staff and free admission to all, every day.

For all the Museum gives to its community, Kansas Citians return, as if understanding that every gift to the Museum is a gift to themselves. The community supports the Nelson-Atkins in these, and many other, ways:

  • Nearly 350,000 annual visitors.
  • A thriving membership.
  • More than 500 volunteers.
  • Generous gifts to the Annual Fund and the Museum endowment.
  • The Ford Learning Center made possible by a $4.5 million grant by Ford Motor Company Fund.
  • Seven named or endowed staff and curatorial positions.
  • Art acquisition funds, established by people passionate about growing the already outstanding permanent collection, making Kansas City the forever-home to  masterworks including Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines, Thomas Cole’s The Old Mill at Sunset, and Kerry James Marshall’s Memento #5
  • Gifts of art—too numerous to list—but of special distinction are: de Kooning’s Woman IV given by William Inge; the Starr collection of miniature portraits; the Burnap Collection of English Pottery; 84 spectacular objects, including 52 Henry Moore bronzes, from the Hall Family Foundation; the city-favorite Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen as gifted by the Sosland family; and 6,500 works from the Hallmark Photographic Collection, establishing the Nelson-Atkins as one of the premier museums in the world for photography.

In 2007, the community realized its most magnificent dream for the Nelson-Atkins: its first-ever expansion and renovation. This historic endeavor sprang from a community-based Strategic Plan. A roadmap for the Museum’s future, the plan called for growth in collections, facilities, educational programming and more. To make manifest their desires, the community pledged more than $200 million before the first shovelful of dirt was turned on the Museum’s eastern landscape.

As Museum Trustee J.C. Nichols said during the Nelson-Atkins dedication ceremony in 1933, “There is a welcome here for all. Regardless of the clothes he wears, his wealth or position, may everyone feel that it belongs to him.” Nichols’ words have held true throughout the Nelson-Atkins’ 70 plus years. When the Bloch Building was unveiled in 2007, it was confirmation of the Museum’s founding vision, a truly collaborative venture and a community triumph.

The Collections

Where the power of art engages the spirit of community
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