KC art museum to display first part of redo

Sunday, April 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is unveiling the first half of a $17.2 million improvement project this month, despite recent staff and program cuts.

The museum in Kansas City announced a 10percent reduction in operating costs three months ago. It included staff cuts and the cancellation of a major special exhibit set for September.

But now, the museum is primed to show off its pricey redo, which includes new galleries for the American and American Indian collections.

Marc Wilson, the museum's director and chief executive officer, said funds for the new construction were donated before the cuts.

"They're totally different pots," Wilson said. "One is a capital pot for construction, with money donated long before the crash — as early as 2003.

"There's a fire wall between those and operating funds," he added. "They're not interchangeable at all. The money's all donated from private sources, donated for these purposes specifically."

Starting Wednesday, the public can view the completed American galleries. They feature new lighting, flooring and newly cleaned and reframed works of art.

The American Indian galleries will open in November.

Roughly half of the museum's second floor was gutted to work on the two-part project. New air conditioning, plumbing and restrooms are being added to the original 1933 structure.

The cost of the new American Indian galleries has been covered through multiple individual donations, while longtime museum supporters Sarah and Landon Rowland provided major funding for the American galleries.

"The galleries appropriately present the Nelson's distinguished American collections," Landon Rowland said, "and certainly honor all those past donors for their important gifts to the museum."

The American galleries present artworks from the 17th century to World War II. A large grant from the Henry Luce Foundation helped with the American galleries' installation costs.

"We want visitors to understand the creativity of our past and make connections with their own experience of American art and life," said Margi Conrads, the museum's curator of American art.


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