Over the next seven months, The Northeast News and the Kansas City Museum are collaborating on a number of informational news pieces designed to share the Museum’s reopening story through conversations with Kansas City, Missouri officials and staff, Kansas City Museum Foundation board members, museum staff, partners, funders, and stakeholders. We’ll also talk with Kansas City residents about what the museum and its reopening this fall means to them. This week, the Making Our Museum: Sponsored Content series kicks off with KC Parks Director Terry Rynard and KC Parks Deputy Director Roosevelt Lyons.
The Kansas City Museum is scheduled to reopen this fall after an almost four year closure and $22 million renovation project.
“I’m very excited. I think it’s been closed for far too long, but bigger than that is the way that Anna Marie [Tutera] and her team are approaching the project, the coordination with the artists and with the community, the educators, everything,” said Terry Rynard, Director of the City’s Parks and Recreation Department “We’re excited, not just because the building will be open, but because the programs are going to be so awesome. I don’t know that there’s another institution around that is going to be like this.”
Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Roosevelt Lyons remembers when the project began, and has enjoyed seeing it develop into what it is now.
“It’s been a learning process for me, getting to see Anna Marie and her team work on this and work through this and get this awesome institution back open,” Lyons said of Tutera, the museum’s executive director. ““Just the work that Anna Marie has done, the intentional work on the front end on the programming aspect, involving the neighborhood and stakeholders in these conversations has been phenomenal.”
A project long on people’s minds before construction began, the community planning process started around 2010. The journey since then has included a couple directors and a number of different scenarios on how the museum looks and is operated.
Lyons hopes this process and final product will be used as a model for future projects in the city.
“It’s one thing to renovate a building and to open a building,” Lyons said. “It’s a whole other thing when you start talking about the programming and the stakeholders and the buy-in that it takes to ensure a facility like this is successful going forward. We should never lose sight of the work that went into that aspect of it, not just the construction and the design and all that, which was significant as well, but the idea of the programming and the stakeholder engagement and community engagement was just in parallel with the scope of the construction and design of it.”
Rynard knew the first step was finding an executive director that fit in well with the museum’s mission and values. She doesn’t know how anyone can argue that Tutera isn’t the best fit for the job at this time.
“We had a lot of help from the city in terms of dollars, but also the fundraising and putting together the kind of boots-on-the-ground and the neighborhood support, that was all really critical,” Rynard said. “The level of trust had to be rebuilt again to reestablish that relationship, to make sure that everyone believed us that we were going to get it done.”
Most importantly, the community wanted assurance that the renovation was going to be a representation of not just the Northeast – although there’s a lot of representation of Northeast history – but the history of Kansas City, the good, bad and ugly.
Lyons said he’s glad the museum’s opening soon, during one of the most challenging times that the city and its residents have seen in a while.
“Whether you’re talking about the pandemic and its effects on budgets or everything that we do on the day-to-day, it’s really key that this facility is going to be opening up here in the near future,” Lyons said. “I think it is also a good example of the long-sightedness of this project.”
Rynard agrees that the timing is ideal for a number of reasons.
“It’s this tough balance and there’s dialogue almost every day about how you balance tradition and history as we’ve been taught it with progress, and maybe even justice,” Rynard said. “I think the way we’ve approached the museum, and again, that’s Anna Marie and her team, is a great example of how you can have both.”
This museum program has the opportunity to be a unifying element for all of Kansas City, which Rynard thinks that’s the most exciting part of what they have going on at Corinthian Hall.
The first exhibit that is scheduled is from the St Joseph’s Hospital archives, which Rynard views as an opportunity to do a deep dive into a single archive.
“You’re not rushing through, you’re not going to get tired of the same exhibits,” Rynard said. “It’s an opportunity to keep it fresh, to do a bigger reach. You want to start off with something that kind of knocks your socks off.”
Collections Director Denise Morrison and her team have curated exhibits that take stories many don’t think about to present them in a way that is extremely interesting and tells the real story of Kansas City in an educational and fun way, Lyons said.
Kansas City’s historic neighborhoods were absolutely critical in shaping the city as it is known today, Lyons said. The museum will have a rotating series on such neighborhoods.
“It’s very difficult to talk about Kansas City’s rich history and its neighborhoods and not incorporate the voices of those neighborhoods into this project,” Lyons said. “Anna Marie throughout this has been extremely mindful and intentional about including those.
He calls it “such a Kansas City thing to do,” in such an institution dedicated to telling these stories. Following its renovation, the museum will move to management by the Kansas City Museum Foundation.
“The relationship with the foundation is going to be critical to our success and ongoing relationships with the City’s Parks Department, but I’ll say the Parks Department obviously has a history of these types of partnerships, whether you’re talking about the zoo, or World War I [Museum],” Lyons said. “Speaking as a public administrator, one of the key roles of government when we’re talking about the idea of stabilizing a facility or an institution like the Kansas City Museum, getting it what it needs so that it gets back on its feet, and then letting those who have that passion, and expertise operate it.”