Nelson-Atkins Announces New Strategic Plan, New Board Leadership
Museum Updates Include Increased Pay for Frontline Staff
Kansas City, MO, Kansas City, MO, Sept. 1, 2021 – The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees has approved a series of new measures that underscore the commitment to the art in its care and to staff, volunteers, and the community. First and foremost, the Board has adopted a new Strategic Plan that integrates inclusion, diversity, equity, and access into the overall approach to the museum’s mission. Also, the museum announced an updated Board of Trustees roster that includes five new members, as well as new Board leadership beginning in May 2022.
As part of the strategic plan work, the Nelson-Atkins also has completed a compensation analysis with the help of a professional firm to ensure that staff members are fairly paid. As a result, many salaries and titles were upgraded to reflect new responsibilities, and the museum’s base pay has been increased to $15 an hour for all hourly employees, which affects about a third of the staff. Also, all staff will receive a 3% salary or wage increase.
“The Nelson-Atkins thrives today because so many people through the decades have given their time, skills, and personal passion to the museum and its mission,” said Richard C. Green, Chair of the Board. “The museum leadership is working hard to recognize the value of its staff, volunteers, members, and community members who help us grow in every way. Through our new Strategic Plan and our day-to-day work, we amplify our commitment to inclusion of all people, with the rich diversity that comes from different backgrounds, ideas, and experiences.”
Museum’s New Strategic Plan
The museum’s newly approved strategic plan underscores art as the core of the museum’s mission, supported by care of the people who nurture the museum, a commitment to community, and responsible and ethical actions that sustain the Nelson-Atkins into the future. The new plan honors the past, while recognizing that the museum must also be a place for dialogue regarding current issues: “We believe that art has the ability to uplift, surprise, challenge, and transform,” it states. “It gives expression not only to distant cultures and times, but also to immediate voices and issues, and provides avenues for exploring the world, past and present, and for informing our future.”
The plan is the result of work by the Nelson-Atkins staff, trustees, and volunteers over the past year and a half, including a deep look at the museum’s role in Kansas City and the global art world. Those conversations resulted in a number of key actions outlined in the plan, which can be found on the website, www.nelson-atkins.org.
“The new Strategic Plan reflects the intentionality with which we project the museum into the future. We have been embracing and living many of the goals through our practices, programs, and exhibitions, and we strive to become a model for inclusivity,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, the museum’s Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director & CEO. “I am heartened that our trajectory for the future builds on the experiments and accomplishments of years past.”
During the past year and a half, the museum engaged staff, volunteers, and trustees in important conversations regarding inclusion, race, and diversity. Among the issues addressed were questions raised about one of its founders, William Rockhill Nelson, based on his role as a real estate developer and newspaper publisher. During Winter and Spring 2021, the Nelson-Atkins Board revisited the early history of the museum through a number of avenues, considered the role of the museum in the community and the global art world, and discussed the museum’s name. In Summer 2021, the Board voted that the museum would retain The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as its current name.
“The Board concluded that as an institution rooted in history, an attempt to expunge a portion of the museum’s history is not the answer to fighting racism or advancing our community,” Zugazagoitia said. “The better approach is to ensure and demonstrate that the Nelson-Atkins is a model for inclusivity and that our programs have a profound reach.”
Also during the past year and a half, the Nelson-Atkins worked with staff, volunteers, and trustees on training and discussions concerning inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. The museum committed to important measures in that regard, including changing the pay structure for staff, expanding its collection of art with works by diverse artists, and working closely with the community to find more ways for all people to engage with art.
The museum also is dedicated to expanding inclusivity regarding the art it collects and the artists who are featured in exhibitions. Visitors will find a dynamic show — Testimony: African American Artists Collective, the result of a collaboration between the museum and the Kansas City-based African American Artists Collective – on view through March 27, 2022. Testimony is the first in a series of exhibitions called KC Art Now that will be a celebration and collaboration with local and regional artists. The museum is currently developing the next installment of KC Art Now that will showcase work by Asian American and Pacific Islander artists.
In addition, the research about the museum’s early history gave staff and leadership the chance to reflect on the aspirations and ideals behind the long gestation that led to the opening of the museum in 1933. The result is an exhibition called Origins: Collecting to Create the Nelson-Atkins, on view through March 6, 2022. This exhibition showcases the early decisions, strategies, and serendipity that resulted in a distinguished museum.“The mission of the museum comes alive with programs and exhibitions that bring our communities together with art and diverse narratives. We welcome all people to visit the museum in person and online to be inspired by art from our global collection,” Zugazagoitia said. “We invite everyone to experience our commitments at work, in the range of programs we offer, with the children and families we serve for free, and through the expansiveness of our collection.”
New Trustees and Board Leadership
This fiscal year, Richard C. Green will complete his final year of a four-year term as Chair of the Board in April 2022. The museum’s incoming Board chair will be Evelyn Craft Belger, a Kansas City business owner and CEO, a champion of the arts, and a museum trustee since 2016.
“Evelyn is the natural choice to lead the Nelson-Atkins into the future,” Green said. “I am thrilled that she accepted the post of Vice Chair this coming year. She and I will work together for a full year, at which point she will take over as Chair in May 2022.”
Belger is President and CEO of the crane company Belger Cartage Service, which she joined in 2009 as Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. She has more than 10 years’ experience in commercial banking and 16 years in arts management positions in St. Petersburg, Ga., and Memphis, Tenn. She and her husband, Dick, have created the unique destination Belger Crane Yard Studios, which provides creative spaces for artists and hosts dozens of exhibitions each year. The Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St., welcomes the public to galleries that showcase the Belger Arts Collection.
In addition, the Board named five new members: Mary Atterbury, a civic leader and philanthropist; Ramin Cherafat, Chief Executive Officer of McCownGordon; Sandra A.J. Lawrence, retired Chief Administrative Officer of Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics; Steve McDowell, Director of Design and Principal at BNIM; and Marny Sherman, also a civic leader and philanthropist. They began their three-year terms on May 1, 2021.
They joined current Board members: Richard C. Green, Chair; Evelyn Craft Belger, Vice Chair; William B. Taylor, Treasurer; Ramón Murguía, Secretary; and trustees Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ann Kaufmann Baum, Grant Burcham, Valerie E. Chow, Paul DeBruce, Don Hall, Jr., Shirley Bush Helzberg, Sara S. Morgan, Leo Morton, Mark O’Connell, and Kent Sunderland.
Mary Atterbury is a philanthropist in Kansas City who is President of the Atterbury Family Foundation. She has served several previous terms on the Nelson-Atkins Board, 2006-2012 and 2013-2019. Atterbury also has served in leadership roles with the University of Missouri-Kansas City Urban Education Council, the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, American Red Cross, Pembroke Hill School, and Children’s TLC.
Ramin Cherafat serves as Chief Executive Officer of McCownGordon Construction and has been involved in numerous civic boards: the Board of Directors of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Metropolitan Community College Foundation, and the University of Missouri – Kansas City
Sandra Lawrence returns to the Board after serving a previous term from 2007 to 2013 and from 2015 to 2020. She has been active on numerous boards, including Evergy, Inc., Ivy and Waddell and Reed Mutual Funds Complex Trust, American Shared Hospital Services, and the Hall Family Foundation. Lawrence retired from The Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics after having served as Chief Administrative Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Executive Vice President
Steve McDowell is Principal and Director of Design and Strategy at BNIM, an architecture, landscape, planning and design firm. He played an important role in the design work involved in the Bloch Building, which opened to the public in 2007. McDowell is considered an innovator, and his workplace is a laboratory for exploring ideas related to site, environment, and technical investigation.
Marny Sherman is President of the Sherman Family Foundation and a community volunteer who has helped raise funds for special education, early childhood education, and higher education, especially for underserved communities. She also serves on the boards of Cristo Rey Kansas City, The Rabbit Hole, the UMKC Foundation Board, the Kansas City Symphony, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the museum is a key educational resource for the region. The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, and closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.
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Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art