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The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Celebrates 75 Years of Vision and Generosity
Both buildings at night from the J.C. Nichols Plaza. Courtesy of Roland Halbe/The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 2006.

KANSAS CITY.- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a cultural beacon for the Midwest, will celebrate its 75th anniversary in the coming year with events that honor the generous support and visionary leadership that have shaped the Museum throughout its history. The year of celebration begins with a champagne toast to opening day in 1933 and concludes with a gala affair that is a salute to the Museum’s future, building on stellar examples of past generations.

Now 75 years since opening day, Dec. 11, 1933, when nearly 8,000 people stood in line to enter the new limestone building, the Nelson-Atkins glows with its new expansion, the Bloch Building. Its encyclopedic collection is one of the finest in the nation.

“The Nelson-Atkins is the child of good fortune,” said Marc F. Wilson, the Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “This remarkable Museum has grown and prospered because of just the right combination of people who possessed genius, vision and tenacity.”

A Legacy of Generosity
The Nelson-Atkins was the separate dream of two individuals who were vastly different people – the flamboyant businessman William Rockhill Nelson and the reclusive schoolteacher Mary McAfee Atkins.

Nelson was the founder of The Kansas City Star, which began in 1880 in what was then a raw frontier town. When he first arrived in Kansas City, Nelson declared it “incredibly ugly and commonplace” and said, “If I were to live here the town must be made over.” He made civic improvement and beauty a priority, and when he died in 1915, he left funds for an art collection for the people of Kansas City.

Mary Atkins was a Kentucky schoolteacher who married a Kansas City businessman. After his death, she found solace in the art galleries of Europe and she hoped others would share her inspiration. At the time she died in 1911, she left money to build a museum of fine arts.

The two estates were combined to create the Nelson-Atkins.

On the day the Nelson-Atkins opened to the public in 1933, thousands of people turned out not only to see the new Museum, but also for a rare look at a work on loan, Whistler’s Mother. Only the eastern galleries of the Museum were finished.

The west wing was a vast empty shell, a testament to the foresight of the founders, who knew that more space would be essential in the coming years.
Crowds streamed into the new Museum each day, and by the end of December 1933, it was estimated that 100,000 people had visited the new space.

Now 75 years later, the Nelson-Atkins will celebrate with a year of events that include:

A Sparkling Night: A Toast to Our 75th, an event Thursday, Dec. 11, for the Society of Fellows, the Business Council and Friends of Art. The evening will be marked with a champagne toast and a major announcement.

A lively weekend Dec. 13 and 14, Cupcake Kickoff, will feature free cupcakes for all, music hits from each decade since the 1930s, and free admission to the international exhibition Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830–1960. Visitors will be invited to shop the Museum Store for “75 Gifts Under $75.”

Unveiling of the new American galleries in the spring of 2009, a landmark in the transformation of the Nelson-Atkins. Visitors will see their first glimpse of a new Grand Hall and galleries that are organized around six key moments in American history, from 1776 to the 1940s.

An All-American Weekend celebration on Mother’s Day weekend, May 8, 9 and 10, to celebrate the newly opened American galleries and the opening of the exhibition George Segal: Street Scenes.

Opening of the new American Indian galleries in the fall of 2009, a dramatically expanded installation of more than 200 works. The new galleries will move the Nelson-Atkins to the forefront among preeminent museums in this important field, presenting Native American traditions as a part of the world’s cultural heritage.

An elegant gala affair, Brilliance: A Diamond Celebration, set for February 2010, when supporters of the Nelson-Atkins will gather for a black-tie night to celebrate the success of initiatives pursued during the past year.

“The coming year promises to be filled with many significant moments,” said Estelle Sosland, chairman of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees. “It is a fitting time for us to pay tribute to our founders, who joined their talents and resources to make this magnificent Museum a reality.

“We share their passion for art, culture and education and they are our inspiration as we move toward an exciting future.”

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