Anna Marie Tutera has come home to the historic Northeast neighborhood to help restore one of its crown jewels, the Kansas City Museum, which has recently emerged from a period of turmoil.
Tutera became executive director of the museum on May 1, almost 11 months after her predecessor, Christopher Leitch, was dismissed. Union Station CEO George Guastello, who at the time oversaw the management of the museum, never said publicly why he fired Leitch. Rumors and consternation ran rampant in the aftermath.
The move did, however, seem to portend a change in the museum’s operation. In December, the City Council approved an agreement transferring management of the museum and its collections from Union Station to the city parks department.
That makes Parks and Recreation Department Director Mark McHenry — along with the mayor and council — ultimately responsible for what goes on at the Kansas City Museum.
It was McHenry who hired Tutera away from the John Wornall House Museum to lead the Kansas City Museum into a new era.
It’s a homecoming for Tutera, who until age 4 lived in the house immediately east of the museum. The museum is in Corinthian Hall, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., and as a child, Tutera often visited it.
The house stayed in her family through 1996, and other relatives lived in the neighborhood, too.
“I spent a great deal of my childhood here, in this community,” Tutera said. “Growing up with family in the house on Gladstone, it really was our base for social and family activity. ... I have beautiful memories of that house and memories of the museum.
“It was kind of our playground. I remember walking in through the front door and going straight for the stairs and running up and going into the exhibit spaces, the igloo and the bear.”
Tutera, 41, said those childhood experiences — along with relatives who worked for libraries — “absolutely” influenced her decision to become a museum professional.
“I grew up with a real appreciation for libraries and museums,” she said.
After graduating from Northwestern University, Tutera got her first job in the field at the Chicago Children’s Museum, working in development, or fundraising.
She then took a development job at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and, while living in California, earned a master’s degree in museum studies from John F. Kennedy University. A stint at the San Francisco Foundation, she said, gave her experience with grant-making and community development.
She moved on to jobs with an arts program for homeless children in San Rafael, Calif., and the Habitot Children’s Museum in Berkeley, Calif.
In 2010, she became director of the Santa Fe Children’s Museum in New Mexico. Her predecessor had resigned just as the museum embarked upon a significant expansion, for which Tutera had to raise money quickly. The expansion opened in 2012.
At that point, with two young sons, Tutera felt the pull of family and hometown calling her back to Kansas City. In August 2012, she became director of the Wornall House, 6115 Wornall Road, and its sister facility, the Alexander Majors House, 8201 State Line Road.
“I walked into a situation with a major capital improvement project,” Tutera said.
In late 2011, prolonged drought conditions caused a serious crack in the foundation on the southwest corner of the Wornall House, damaging the walls above. Work to restore the house began in August 2013 and was completed in April at a cost of $350,000.
It was at the Wornall House Museum that Tutera first worked with Susan Richards Johnson & Associates, a local architecture firm that specializes in historic restoration and renovation. The Kansas City Museum has used grant money to hire the firm to help plan its next steps in renovating Corinthian Hall.
Built in 1910 as the family home of lumber baron R.A. Long, Corinthian Hall has been home to the museum since 1940. In 1948, the Kansas City Museum Association deeded the property to the city.
In the late 1970s, a city property tax levy was approved, and today it provides the museum about $1.4 million a year for operations. In 1980, Corinthian Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum’s fate became entangled with that of another historic property, Union Station, in the new millennium.
The Kansas City Museum Association and the Union Station Assistance Corp. agreed to merge in 2000, soon after the renovation of the station was completed. That put the museum under the control of Union Station’s leadership, although a Kansas City Museum Advisory Board was formed. The advisory board was dissolved this year, when the city regained exclusive control over the museum.
The city continued to support the museum, though, even while Union Station controlled it. Between 2007 and 2010, the city spent about $10 million to fix the roof, doors, windows and outer walls and to install a new heating, air conditioning and ventilation system.
But the inside of Corinthian Hall is torn out. Some plaster has been removed from walls, some areas are roped off and the chandeliers are still covered with cloth.
“It’s completely gutted,” Tutera said.
On one third-floor wall, the outline of the igloo can still be seen. The igloo was one of the favorite exhibitions of baby boomer schoolchildren, but Tutera says neither it nor the stuffed polar bear that stood beside it will be returning.
Walls for an art exhibit space have been built on the second floor, and exhibitions have continued. Children visit the Fairy Princess each Christmas season. Daily “hard hat” house tours are offered.
“We don’t like to use the c-word,” community relations manager Andrew Mouzin said, referring to “closed.”
Estimates of what it will cost to bring Corinthian Hall back to full usage range upward from $20 million.
“It depends on the interpretive plan and whether you just do Corinthian Hall or the other buildings, too, but I have heard $20 (million) to $50 million,” said City Councilman Scott Wagner, a former member of the museum advisory board.
“The good news when you throw out numbers like that is you don’t have to do it all at once. You can work up a plan over time, and the more you do, the more you can show.”
That brings up the matter of the museum’s collection, estimated at nearly 100,000 items ranging from historic clothing and vehicles to documents and artwork. Some is stored in the bowels of Union Station, while other pieces are held in an industrial cave complex.
Ownership is apparently divided, too.
Guastello says that as a result of past agreements, Union Station owns everything collected after 1970, while the museum owns everything collected before that date.
Yet Wagner, Guastello, McHenry and Tutera all insist that Union Station and the museum can cooperate on displays of the collection going forward. After all, it’s not as though the Kansas City Museum — or virtually any museum — can show everything it has all at once.
“We’ve created what I think is the best way we could to split the baby, as far as the collection goes,” Wagner said. “It will still be managed as a joint collection, with the museum having the opportunity to be the major shower of pieces, and there will still be opportunities for Union Station to show things, as well. ...
“The bottom line is everyone is going to cooperate because that’s in everyone’s best interest.”
Early on, Tutera was busy contemplating the magnitude of the challenges before her.
She said she was reviewing “planning documents developed over the past 10 years,” including interpretive plans and architectural master plans for Corinthian Hall, its grounds and ancillary buildings. She wanted to understand “what that vision was and how we’re going to move forward.”
“You can’t just think about the cost of restoration and renovation,” she said. “You have to think about how you will operate and sustain the operation after you do.”
Tutera said the museum’s mission “is to collect, preserve and interpret the history of Kansas City,” and that it will continue doing that with 21st-century sensitivity.
“We are working toward making our programs, exhibitions and collection more multicultural,” she said.
Recent museum exhibits have either tied into special exhibits at Union Station, such as “Fashions in the Titanic Era” or focused on local history. One was “Ours to Fight For: Kansas City in World War II.”
Coming up Sept. 13 through Nov. 30 will be “Dressing Up in Kansas City: Rites of Passage,” which will feature items from the museum’s collection used in rituals linked to birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
“We want the museum to be a vital community resource, a leading educational institution, locally and nationally,” Tutera said. “We want it to be a destination. And I believe completely it can be all of those things.
“We just have to determine the path and make sure it’s all feasible. We have a social responsibility to do so. We are the stewards of this museum.”
Tutera said she has responded to “an outpouring of meeting requests,” conferring with philanthropic and community leaders about the museum’s future.
McHenry said Tutera’s Kansas City roots should be “very beneficial” in building support for the museum.
“She knows the philanthropic community and can draw upon those relationships,” McHenry said. “Her roots in the Northeast are important, knowing the community and the folks who live in the neighborhood. They want to feel like someone cares about it. Corinthian Hall is important to the community.”
The museum this month will begin working with Susan Richards Johnson & Associates to assess the first-floor interior of Corinthian Hall and develop a treatment plan for the decorative features and finished surfaces. That should be finished by January.
“This will provide a road map for recommended preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of the first floor, as we understand how much we can feasibly return to its historical context,” Tutera said.
She also will be making recommendations this fall on the scope, timeline and funding of the mansion renovation.
Tutera knows she has taken on a big job and an institution with a troubled history. Yet she exudes confidence.
“It’s not that complicated for me,” she insisted, “if I keep my focus on the mission and community engagement and what I know to be true about museums. They can completely bring people together. They can be agents for social change and civic unity. ...
“Right now, we should all feel really excited to be working with the museum. We have great jobs. We have the great fortune to rebuild an institution and work with the community to do so. And we should have fun doing it!”
What: “Dressing Up in Kansas City: Rites of Passage,” which focuses on clothing that Kansas Citians wore in the 1800s and 1900s for ceremonies relating to birth, childhood, coming of age, marriage, careers and death.
When: Sept. 13 through Nov. 30
What: “Rituals and Celebrations: Exploring Meaning Through Dress,” a more contemporary exhibit featuring the work of local fiber artists and designers who interpret the body as a form of artistic expression to celebrate significant life moments or a new journey. Exhibit will be in the new Community Gallery on the second floor.
When: Oct. 4 through Nov. 30
Details for both exhibits
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Exhibits are accessible only by tours that begin on the hour. The last one leaves at 3 p.m.
Family Fun Days: Free family events held periodically on Sunday afternoons. The next one is 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 14, with the theme “Dressing up.” On Oct. 12, the focus will be on mural-making techniques, followed by Day of the Dead on Oct. 26.
Talks and tours: The museum regularly brings in speakers and also sponsors tours that focus on interesting places around Kansas City, including one of the garment district on Sept. 20 and historic cemeteries on Oct. 11.
Fairy Princess: The Kansas City holiday tradition returns on weekends in December.
For more: KansasCityMuseum.org