The long-sought designation of Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial as official national memorial to the Great War was, ironically, tucked into a war-spending bill.
The must-pass bill approved this month finally capped a legislative effort that had been stalled for years.
“We’re just grateful they were able to find an appropriate bill to hang it onto to get the thing passed,” said Matt Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War I Museum. “It speaks to the ingenuity of the Congress people.”
The rise in stature is expected to greatly enhance the museum’s ability to court fundraisers, to expand a national advisory board and to attract visitors and traveling exhibits.
“This enables us to have conversations with prospective funders on a national scale that might otherwise see us as a more parochial or regional museum,” said Naylor. “This is potentially a very good thing for us.”
Memorial leaders had a successful fundraising event in New York recently and are planning future events.
Liberty Memorial already had the designation of being the “national museum” for World War I. Now it can add “national memorial” to its title as well. The monument’s board will explore whether to tweak the museum’s logo or brand.
The designation was sponsored by local U.S. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, Sam Graves and Kevin Yoder and by Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt.
“This designation honors the courage and sacrifice of all those who served in World War I,” McCaskill said in a statement. “It’s my hope that the Liberty Memorial’s new, national status — which finally matches its national significance — shines a spotlight on the site’s unique and extraordinary historical value.”
The legislation was a compromise with backers of a separate memorial in Pershing Park in Washington, D.C. Both may now call themselves national memorials. But Kansas City’s is far larger and has by far the most extensive collection of materials from World War I in the country.
The memorial also is home base for the national commission established to commemorate the centennial of the war. Attendance to the war museum here already is up about 30 percent over last year, and attendance at exhibits and programs is up about 500 percent.
Liberty Memorial officials expect even more attention in coming years with the centennial of the United States’ entry into the war.
Next summer, the Australian War Memorial will send an exhibit of war art to Kansas City. It will be the first time the museum in Canberra has sent part of its collection overseas.
The national designation for Liberty Memorial will make more opportunities like that possible.
“This will enable us to bring other exhibitions and programs to the museum and memorial that otherwise may not come to the United States, or certainly to the Midwest,” Naylor said.