Nelson-Atkins Museum proposes new cultural arts district

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art hosted a lecture last Thursday to discuss creation of a cultural arts district that will incorporate more cultural hotspots in Midtown Kansas City. Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, founders of the New York City urban design firm Weiss/Manfredi, presented the lecture and discussed how similar designs could be used in Kansas City. The Nelson-Atkins hired the two to conduct a study on the feasibility of a cultural arts district surrounding the museum.

“We’re living in an increasingly fragile and interconnected world,” Weiss said.

Weiss and Manfredi highlighted the importance of creating a fluid network between manmade architecture and the natural landscape. They showcased their previous work across the country that utilizes natural landscapes to create dynamic architectural spaces.

The proposed cultural arts district is not a new plan. In August, Museum Director Julián Zugazagoitia told KCUR the idea has been around since the museum’s opening.

“We have records that [J.C.] Nichols was already thinking about how the museum and everything he was building could be an anchor for the neighborhood and the university,” Zugazagoitia said.

The district would stretch west toward Broadway Blvd., north toward 44th St., east toward The Paseo and south toward 55th St. Under the proposal, UMKC would be a southern anchor within the cultural arts district, connected to the Nelson-Atkins Museum via a pedestrian bridge that would cross Brush Creek and feed into the sculpture garden.

While there is support for the plan, some criticism has been raised. Dr. Michael Frisch, program director of UMKC’s Urban Planning and Design department, is concerned with plans to raze a number of historic buildings surrounding the museum.

“Some of the concepts are not well thought out and would destroy the historic character of the land and neighborhoods surrounding the Nelson,” Frisch said. “The plan to move Rockhill Rd. would change the character of the Bloch Building and the historic Rockhill neighborhood.”

Joy Swallow, chair of the Architecture, Urban Planning and Design department, also raised concerns about proposed retail space surrounding the museum.

“Retail needs to stay in the Plaza and not interrupt parks and neighborhoods that surround the Nelson,” Swallow said.

The museum promises to continue conversation with the community regarding the proposal while plans develop. Museum officials also plan to look at other cultural arts districts across the country as a starting point for Kansas City’s own plan, including Millennium Park in Chicago, High Line in New York City and Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. The latter was designed by Weiss/Manfredi and is what originally made Nelson officials interested in the duo.

For those interested in learning more about the proposed cultural arts district, a formal presentation by museum officials is tentatively scheduled on Nov. 10 at 4:30 p.m. in Katz Hall. Check the Architecture, Urban Planning and Design department website, as the date is subject to change.

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