The shuffling of chairs could be heard in Kansas City’s art world as the boards of trustees of both the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art a block away announced new leadership.
The larger museum said that the reins of its 20-member board had been picked up by Shirley Bush Helzberg, who has one of the highest profiles as local patron of the arts. Over the years, she’s been the board president of the Kansas City Symphony, chairman of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Starlight Theatre president and founding chairman of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City.
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“The enjoyment of art has had a profound experience on my life,” Helzberg said in a statement. “I will enjoy working on the areas of our new strategic plan to continue to bring art to the community for the enjoyment of all and to build on the sturdy foundation of past leadership. Education, diversity and increased audiences will continue to be a most important area of my interest.”
Meanwhile, Mary Kemper Wolf, daughter of Kemper museum founders R. Crosby Kemper Jr. and Bebe Kemper, will head the board there, effective immediately. Crosby and Bebe Kemper, the gallery’s founders, are stepping down from the body as sons Sandy and Mariner Kemper join it.
“My parents’ boundless enthusiasm and support for the arts has inspired many, including me, and I look forward to continuing their legacy through the Kemper Museum for many years to come,” said Wolf in a statement. “Kansas City has a thriving arts culture, and next year the Kemper Museum reaches a significant milestone — its 20th anniversary.”
The elder Kempers will stay close as chairman emeritus and trustee emerita.
“The museum is a great love of mine,” said Crosby Kemper, 86, patriarch of the UMB banking clan. “Mary shares my passion for art, and I am confident she will thoughtfully and successfully lead the museum.”
At the Nelson, Sarah Rowland has stepped down after four years as chairman, although she will remain on the board. She and her husband, Landon, played key roles in the remodeling and reinstallation of the American galleries, unveiled in 2009. Earlier, they had set up the Ever Glades Fund, a permanent endowment for the collection of American art.
Helzberg and her husband, Barnett, former chairman of the board of Helzberg Diamonds, helped endow the African gallery in the Bloch Building at the museum. She also led the restoration of Webster House, a Romanesque-style school next door to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Helzberg Hall, the concert venue of the center, carries their name.
“We are delighted to welcome Mrs. Helzberg to this important role, and we know she will lead the Nelson-Atkins into the future, with ever-increasing community engagement,” said museum director and CEO Julián Zugazagoitia. “This is a transition that builds on the great legacy of Sarah Rowland and that continues the Board of Trustees governance at the highest level.”