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Nelson-Atkins Director Says Arts District Plans Are Decades Old


Earlier this month, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art released its preliminary plans for a cultural district surrounding its Midtown Kansas City neighborhood through an article in the Kansas City Star. The vision was expansive, conceivably stretching as far north as Hyde Park, south to Brookside, west to the Country Club Plaza and east to the Paseo. Ideas included pedestrian bridges, re-alignment of Rockhill Road east of the Bloch Building, and a possible hotel north of the museum.

Visiting KCUR studios to talk about the plan with Up to Date host Steve Kraske on Tuesday, Museum Director Julián Zugazagoitia said the ideas in the plan weren't new.

"The idea really dates back to the 1930s, when the museum was being planned for the region," Zugazagoitia said. "We have records that [J.C.] Nichols was already thinking about how the museum and everything he was building could be an anchor for the neighborhood and the university."

On the Nelson's website is a "Flashback" page recounting this history. Within a dozen years after its opening in 1933, "city leaders were purchasing land south of the museum to create a Cultural Center Park. The efforts by many civic leaders continued in the 1940s and the 1950s, with a vision of creating a 'cultural complex,'" the site reads. 

A 1962 booklet "summarized the existing Cultural Center as a parklike area in which great institutions devoted to the pursuit of science, art, music and education flourish side by side.'"

Right now, museum leaders emphasized, they are only hoping to begin a community conversation. They've spoken with a hundred stakeholders but plan to speak with many more. Fully realizing the new-and-improved vision could take another 25 years, said the museum's chief operating officer, Karen Christiansen.

That timeline could work for at least one of the listeners who called in to the show. Ford identified himself as a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who was getting ready to start classes. He called from his car as he was driving through the area around the Kansas City Art Institute.

"I had to share that I could see everything you are envisioning," he said. "I pictured it clearly. I love it. These are all places that I frequent daily, and as someone who lives in Midtown, having these types of structures connecting all of these places would really grab me into the city more."

If it turning the Nelson's current dreams into reality really takes 25 years, today's students may end up sending more like another caller, local political consultant Steve Glorioso. He was worried about increased hassles for nearby homeowners.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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