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Then & Now: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Jean Churchman was four-years-old when The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was born. The 78-year-old Kansas City native has solid memories of her mother, one of the museum’s first docents, taking the little girl through exhibit after exhibit.

“She would practice her speeches in front of me,” Churchman said. “I was her audience, and I felt very special.”

When the Nelson opened in 1933, only the east half of the massive building was needed to house its limited collection. By 1940, galleries opened in the west wing, and by 1970, the Nelson was entirely out of space. Last year, the Nelson opened its new Bloch Building.

Churchman followed in her mother’s footsteps, serving as a docent for 13 years, and later working as the adult education director at the museum.  

“In those days, we didn’t have any sports teams or other major attractions,” Churchman said. “Our museum is what brought people to Kansas City.”

Churchman’s husband, Michael, served as the museum’s director of development for more than 20 years and continues today volunteering services around the complex.

The June 2007 opening of the new Bloch building along with the 2006 completion of the Ford Learning Center and a new parking garage is a milestone not only for the Nelson and the city it calls home, but for the Churchmans as well.

“This is the one institution in Kansas City, that over its history has fulfilled its mission to our local community while developing a reputation around the world for an outstanding cultural organization,” Michael Churchman said.

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Quotable KC

What people are saying about the new Bloch Building at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

“The No. 1 architectural marvel of 2007”

“A near perfect work...”
The New York Times

“…dazzles from the inside. The effect is ethereal.”
The Wall Street Journal

“The new wing is a rich and accomplished design. This is one of the most important collections in the Midwest.”

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Did you know?

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 The Chinese collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is one of the finest in the world. With more than 7,500 works of high quality, it includes masterpieces from every historical stage and in every medium of China’s artistic activity – from Neolithic times to the 20th century.


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