The effort to imagine a new “cultural district” in the midtown area radiating around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has taken a few more steps toward clarity.
In another of a series of workshop sessions with interested members of the community, a planning consultant this week presented three concepts that might be followed to define and enhance the area. Feedback from a couple of dozen attendees on Tuesday led the process to focus on one of them from here on out.
That concept is defined by a theme of “arts and education in the city,” and is oriented towards bridging divides and making connections between all the cultural and educational institutions throughout the museum neighborhoods. So, on paper, it’s represented by lots of arcing arrows, dotted lines and highlighted stars.
When the Nelson-Atkins last summer sprung a big-picture, dream-vision planning map onto the city, devised by a New York architecural firm, it barely acknowledged the potential of making connections, say, with Troost Avenue. But local input matters, and now, significantly, the focus of this plan extends from the east edge of the Country Club Plaza along Cleaver Boulevard to the Paseo and even the Paseo Academy, the fine arts high school.
“The development of infrastructure that serves to inspire and nurture the creative process is key to its mission,” according to the planning document, which has been developed by Collins Noteis & Associates and other collaborators, who have gathered a considerable amount of community input in the last six months.
That infrastructure could mean live-work artist studios on Troost; a jitney system to help students, residents and visitors get around; redesigned, traffic-calming intersections; new park-enhancing structures; neighborhood signage; active art-oriented programming and lots more. Or none of the above. The details remain to be determined. But that’s the general idea in a nutshell. And in coming weeks the concept will go under further burnishing before another presentation in July.
One thing the plan no longer addresses explicitly is the museum’s desires to build for its own future. Museum officials deftly extracted that part of their vision from this process, after facing vocal fear of “institutional encroachment” in the historic neighborhoods that abut the Nelson.
The Historic Kansas City Foundation on Friday reminded the community what could be at stake, when it included the “Nelsonhood” on its annual list of most endangered architectural landmarks.
Top on the organization’s list was the historic Sauer Castle in Kansas City, Kan., which dates to 1872 and the Shawnee Indian and Santa Fe trails. The house’s plight, a tale of best-laid plans but frustrating neglect, was covered in a Star story a few months back.
New to the list is yet another endangered piece of the Film Row district in the Crossroads, a collection of low-industrial buildings once housing the distribution operations of Hollywood studios. The district lost one building in recent years, which was demolished to build a parking garage. This time it’s the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Building, 220-224 W. 18th St., which is deteriorating because of owner englect, the historic foundation asserted. (Find the complete endangered list below.)
As for the Nelson’s expansion plans, the foundation is concerned for the fate of a group of houses on 45th Street, just northward across the street from the museum. The loss of those “would destroy the context of an entire neighborhood block.” Also threatened is the onetime Rockhill Tennis Club, or the Kirkwood Mansion, on Rockhill Road, whose history, like that of the Nelson itself, extends to the founding family of The Kansas City Star.
As I’ve written before, the Nelson-Atkins needs to think long and hard about how it wields its power and its dreams. Its laudable vision for a lively and attractive “cultural district” can’t become a Trojan horse for inexcusable and highly avoidable expansion missteps.