Adam Johnson is assistant director for education and public programs at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Born and raised in California, Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Santa Cruz and a master’s in art history at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
He came to Kansas City eight years ago from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Johnson oversees the six big festivals the Nelson puts on each year, including the Big Picnic, happening at 4 p.m. July 17.
The free event on the south lawn of the museum and in Theis Park, between Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard and Brush Creek, offers live music, family activities and food trucks. This conversation took place in the sculpture garden at the museum.
Q: This is the third year the Nelson is throwing the Big Picnic. What was the idea behind it?
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A: It is a celebration of the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Garden and also of National Parks and Recreation Month. The Big Picnic partners the Nelson with Kansas City’s Parks and Recreation Department to close down Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard between the sculpture park and Theis Park so it’s just one big park setting. It’s my favorite of all our festivals.
A: Because you can pack your own picnic and come enjoy the art and the music and activities, and central to that is just enjoying the company of your friends and family in a really relaxed and fun setting. And it’s the whole city coming together. Who doesn’t love a picnic?
Q: How many people come each year?
A: The first year about 3,000 people came. Last year we got 5,000, and we expect to top that this year.
Q: Give us some insider tips as to what to bring.
A: You can bring your own picnic or buy food from food trucks. Kansas City Parks and Rec will have a beer garden set up in Theis Park.
Q: Are there rules about what you can bring to the park?
A: The only thing we ask is: no staking, no tenting and no grilling.
Q: Good to know, because Kansas Citians are inclined to do all those things.
A: Absolutely, but bring your folding chairs, and bring an umbrella with a sand base. Or just find a spot under the trees. We have a lot of shade.
Q: What can people do besides eat and drink and listen to music?
A: There are artmaking activities for kids and lawn games — we have badminton courts, which is fun with the Claes Oldenburg (he and Coosje van Bruggen created the Nelson’s “Shuttlecocks” sculptures).
Q: Will the museum be open?
A: The event is mostly intended for people to take in all the wonderful outdoor artworks, but the Big Picnic starts at 4 p.m., so people will have an opportunity before 5 p.m. (when the museum closes) to see our featured exhibit, “Luxury: Treasures of the Roman Empire.”
The subtitle of our Big Picnic this year is “Banquet on a blanket,” because so many of the treasures from the exhibit were goods related to banquets and entertaining.
Featuring music, food and drinks on Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s grounds. 4 p.m. July 17. Free. nelson-atkins.org.