Making Our Museum: Eric Bosch and Mark McHenry

Former City Architect Eric Bosch and former Parks Director Mark McHenry sit down with Publisher Michael Bushnell at the Kansas City Museum. Photo by Abby Hoover

In partnership with Kansas City Museum as they prepare to reopen this fall, we’re interviewing those who have been part of the museum’s journey. This week, publisher Michael Bushnell catches up with former Parks and Recreation Director Mark McHenry and former City Architect Eric Bosch.

The Kansas City Museum at Corinthian Hall is just one of the city’s unique and iconic structures. The people who dedicate their careers to building and preserving those cultural institutions are recognized by those who continue to appreciate their work, even years later. 

Rising through the ranks of the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, Mark McHenry worked with Parks officials and neighborhood leaders over the years on a number of projects at the Kansas City Museum.

From his perspective, where the Kansas City Museum is today, in terms of restoration, all ties back to a conversation McHenry had with Union Station President and CEO George Guastello around 2013 about the relationship between the Kansas City Museum and Union Station. 

Considering the long and complicated history of both institutions, McHenry knew then that things weren’t going as well as people would have hoped, whether from the museum side, which is the Northeast focus, or the Union Station side, and what the mission and purpose was of each.

“It came to a point of conversation where maybe something different needs to happen, and George obviously cared about this facility, he cares about the community – and that wasn’t the issue, he just realized that things may need to change – so we discussed bringing the museum into the park system,” McHenry said. “We kind of jokingly said it was kind of a divorce.”

In February of 2014, they signed an agreement that would transfer the operation and governance of the Kansas City Museum to the Park department. 

“From that point forward, we took it on and I did a lot of public meetings up here, talking to the neighborhood associations… and it’s time to look at a new focus, and I think they kind of appreciated that,” McHenry said. “I think a little bit of our selling point at that time was that we’d worked with other cultural institutions, National World War I Museum – where Eric and I worked together for a period of time, which is now a pretty good success story – and the Kansas City zoo.”

The department acted as a receivership, never intending to operate it as a department division. 

“I probably brought it up, early on at some point, and the business plan said it, ‘Let’s get this in the hands of the foundation,’” McHenry said. “The key to all this, I think, is the governance aspect of it.” 

They planned for that transition to take anywhere from five to 10 years. The Kansas City Museum Foundation (KCMF) took over operation of the museum on May 1, 2021, exactly seven years to the day after the Park department did.

“It takes a good foundation, it takes good leadership, you’ve got Anna Marie [Tutera] in the executive director role and then it took a while for that foundation to get their legs,” McHenry said. “It took us almost 10 years to turn the zoo over to the Friends of the Zoo. It took us probably six or seven years to get the Liberty Memorial Association… They’re all cultural icons, and this one up here is going to become a cultural icon.”

Bosch was previously the project manager on the National World War I museum restoration, where he and McHenry first worked together, learning about design, construction and building exhibits for museums. 

“I was ecstatic the day that I found out that Parks was going to take it over, and then bringing in somebody that really cared about museums and really wanted to focus on the longevity of the museum, making sure that the neighborhood was involved,” Bosch said. “We’ve been doing things to try to keep this building intact, and that led to knowing that the leadership in Parks was going to really make sure this was going to be a real project now, because what we were doing was just, just trying to help the building survive.”

Bosch remembers a lot of involvement from the neighborhood once they found out that Parks was going to be involved. While they were optimistic, they kept a close eye on the project.

“Anna Marie and I met at an event because of Mark, and I would say that that’s where passion and inspiration met,” former City Architect Eric Bosch said.

Just two weeks after Bosch met Tutera, they were planning their first of three trips to New York to look at houses that have been turned into museums. They also traveled to Washington, D.C. and Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Ark. For nearly a decade, Bosch and McHenry worked in tandem with Tutera on different aspects of the museum’s restoration and renovation, often “on a shoestring budget.”

“[Mary Davidson] is the key to it, I mean you’ve got her as a foundation chair and you’ve got several good board members on that foundation, and then you’ve got Anna Marie that kind of pulls it all together,” McHenry said. “It was just destined to happen.”

McHenry strongly believes that it’s the relationships they’ve built with people that make things happen in this city. He is not only impressed with the museum’s physical restoration, but the transformation in programming, as well.

“Anna Marie and the museum staff put together these concerts on the lawn, and I think that brought the neighborhood to the site so they can actually see that this is serious, something’s really going to happen here, and that was all about art and culture, programming, music, and just getting neighbors together,” Bosch said. “So I think that’s when the neighbors really felt that they were comfortable, they added some assurance that something was really going to happen.”

This conversation has been edited for length. The next portion will be available in a future issue of the Northeast News and as a podcast at northeastnews.net. For more information on the Kansas City Museum’s renovation and restoration, visit makingamuseumkc.org.

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