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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, Missouri

Generations: A Gift To Us - A Gift From Us

The early nineteen thirties still hold starkly contrasting images - great advancements in the arts and sciences, as well as great economic instability around the world. The year 1933 also saw the first opening of a world-class museum of art in Kansas City, Missouri. The grandness of the building and the vision of its benefactors, William Rockhill Nelson and Mary Atkins, represent remarkable achievements for any age, but especially for its day. 

After providing pleasure to almost seven decades of art audiences, the Nelson-Atkins Museum was due for an update. Devotees of the Museum agreed that more room was needed to display important works of art kept in storage for lack of gallery area. Reference and research capabilities were falling short of a growing demand, programming outpaced space, and parking had become insufficient. Generosity had built this Museum and now it was time for a new generation to reflect that sacrifice and reinvest in the Nelson-Atkins. "This building and its collections were generously given to the Kansas City community. Now it was up to us to ensure the future of this great gift," offered Michael S. Churchman, campaign advisor for Generations: A Gift To Us - A Gift From Us.

The capital campaign's original goal of $125 million was first set in 1997. As the realities of a major facility expansion, renovation, and endowment developed, the goal was raised in February 1999 to $175 million. The new goal allocated $80 million toward expansion and renovation with the balance going to programming and endowment. The current 234,000-square foot building includes mostly European, Asian, and American art. The addition of 145,000 square feet allows for exhibits such as modern and contemporary art, African art, and photography. Renovations and additions also include a Museum library with more than 125,000 volumes available for referencing, meeting rooms, classrooms, a bookstore, cafe, and much needed space for special exhibitions.

Hartsook and Associates resident counsel for the Generations campaign, Eric Staley, came to The Nelson-Atkins in 1998. "We were fortunate to involve Hartsook and Associates in this campaign and to receive Eric as our resident counsel. He has been with us full time for two and a half years. Without him, we would not be where we are today. One of Eric's strongest contributions has been to guide us in process of receiving major gifts. He is masterful in this," Churchman said.

The overall campaign plan was divided into five phases: Phase I (current and former trustees), Phase II (patrons prepared to give at the $100,000 level and above), Phase III (membership, the Society of Fellows and the Business Council, foundations not included in Phases I and II), Phase IV (membership, Friends of Art), and Phase V (the community at large). The great majority of campaign money came from Phase I, funded by current and former trustees. Generations was uniquely advanced by some exceptionally committed and well-known Kansas City supporters.

"It is easy to understand how a campaign chaired by Adele Hall and Morton Sosland would have a high probability for success. But until one has an opportunity to work with these two extraordinary people, it is impossible to understand the true meaning of dedication. Adele and Morton had fire in the belly from day one to the close of the campaign, and they made the goals of the campaign come to life in the absence of architectural visualizations. Moreover, they motivated and set the standards for all the other volunteers down the line, whose accomplishments were equally amazing across the board. Finally, the generosity of the trustees and former trustees, both in flooring the campaign at its beginning and in taking it well over the top of goal at its end, was absolutely amazing. I cannot imagine ever experiencing such an exhilarating and satisfying campaign again. The mechanics of the campaign were perfect and textbook in many ways, but the leadership, including that of my Museum colleague and friend, Michael Churchman, was in a word, inspired," said Staley.

It is the exception, rather than the rule, for a campaign of this proportion to progress without architectural renderings. Drawings did not become available until November of 2000. By that time the campaign was well beyond goal. By December 2000 gifts and pledges would exceed $200, with surpassing dollars directed by the Museums trustees in support of capital costs.

This impressive achievement can be attributed to the dedication of Generations' campaign leadership: co-chairs Adele Hall and Morton Sosland; steering committee members Donald J. Hall, Estelle Sosland, and Henry Bloch; and supported by another 100 or so volunteers who solicited the Fellows of Art and members of the corporate community.

The Generations campaign for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was the largest private dollar campaign in the history of Kansas City at the time, and one of the largest museum campaigns in the country. (Others include the Museum of Fine Arts - Boston, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum both in New York City). Extraordinarily, all but approximately $6 million was raised locally, and deferred gifts amounted to less than 10 percent of the $200+ million raised.

Drawing on interviews with members of the Kansas City community, Museum volunteers, staff, and trustees, an architectural planning firm retained in 1998 worked to identify and quantify the Museums space needs. Once the planning was complete, a distinguished committee, chaired by Donald J. Hall, senior trustee of Museum and chairman of Hallmark Cards, Inc. was formed to select an architect to design the Nelson-Atkins expansion and renovation.

The process included a sketchbook competition of six internationally recognized architectural firms. Steven Holl of Steven Holl Architects, New York City, was unanimously chosen in 1999. Construction on an underground garage is scheduled to begin in 2001, with a completion date of 2004 for the entire expansion project. Holl's open, landscape connected design will draw visitors into an experience of art and architecture before they ever enter the Museum. Expansion will increase the Nelson-Atkins by more than 55 percent in size, while immeasurably increasing its capacity to bring art appreciation and education to a new generation.
"We have benefited from the contributions of previous generations to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Their generosity and prudent stewardship have provided a legacy for one of the finest art museums in the world. We pledge ourselves to continued excellence for future generations," board trustees and campaign committee members agreed.

While the majority of generosity for this campaign came directly from trustees and committee members, the Kansas City community was supportive of the effort. Corporate gifts also demonstrated a respect for The Nelson-Atkins past and a strong belief in its future. In all, more than 4,000 donors made the campaign successful.

Said Staley, "The Generations campaign for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art offers a case study in how a traditional campaign structure allows a major campaign to flex and succeed. This was a campaign of magnificent leadership enabled by a precise and well-planned vision."

William Rockhill Nelson and Mary Atkins provided a generous offering of art for the pleasure of others. Generations: A Gift To Us - A Gift From Us granted 21st century inheritors of The Nelson-Atkins legacy an occasion to perpetuate the Museum's generous promise to future generations.

John List, PhD - was presented with the prestigious Growing Philanthropy Award for Applied Fundraising Research by Hartsook President and CEO Matthew J. Beem and Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Karin Cox during the Science of Philanthropy Initiative Conference in Chicago.


John is one of the world's leading experts on experimental economics and the Robert F. Hartsook Visiting Chair in Fundraising, at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University. He is Chairman of the Department of Economics and Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. He was recognized in The NonProfit Times Power & Influence Top 50 list in 2015 and 2016.


P.O. Box 410046 • Kansas City, MO 64141 • Tel: 866.630.8500 • Fax: 866.630.8595 • e-mail: [email protected]
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