True or false? Museums are stoic, boring, monoliths full of objects someone with an advanced degree has deemed priceless, musty, old houses crammed to the rafters with some dead rich guy’s stuff or so-called historic places where fatigued volunteers endlessly drone on about how the founding mothers made their own butter.
Researchers far more brilliant than me have spent untold hours determining what type of visitor enjoys a particular type of museum. Usually those studies focus on attributes like whether folks want to be their own guide, use interactive doo-dads or have someone tell them what they’re looking at. It is my belief that what type of museum you choose to visit can have as much to do with your personality as the methods in which you experience it. So for your future museum-visiting pleasure, I have compiled a list of local treasure repositories guaranteed to please any disposition. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it hopefully offers a jumping-off point as you begin exploring the diverse and fascinating museums in and around Kansas City.
the art historian
Anyone who fancies themselves an art aficionado should head to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Located a stone’s throw away from the Country Club Plaza and celebrating its 75th birthday, this museum has a vast collection that spans the breadth of humanity’s artistic achievements. Practice your museum pose (hands clasped behind your back, head nodding contemplatively) while you explore the Steven Holl-designed Bloch Building, check out the newly-reinstalled Egyptian, Greek and Roman galleries or stroll through the Kansas City Sculpture Park [Note: Please refrain from trying to impress your friends with falsified art facts as you never know who may be listening. Seriously–don’t be that guy.] And definitely make time to indulge your Italian-villa fantasies while noshing on Rozzelle Court Restaurant’s delectable desserts.
the tim burton fan
If your tastes lean toward the surreal, unique and slightly macabre, make your way to nearby St. Joseph, Missouri and visit the Glore Psychiatric Museum, a site that details the history of the facility originally known as “State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.” Its namesake founder, George Glore, spent 41 years working in the Missouri mental health system and started the museum in the hopes of eradicating the negative image often associated with mental health patients. Items include a bed sheet used by a patient to communicate via embroidery, barbaric “tranquilizer” chairs, the contents of a patient’s stomach who compulsively swallowed items such as buttons and safety pins and examples of the hospital’s groundbreaking therapy programs.
the history channel addict
Those who are fascinated by military history will find themselves at home in the National World War I Museum, located at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City Missouri’s Penn Valley Park. To enter the museum you cross a glass bridge over a field of 9,000 poppies, each flower symbolizing the death of 1,000 soldiers (nine million died before the war ended.) It has the distinction of being the only museum in the United States dedicated to that period in history as told by the people who experienced it. Life-sized trench replicas, war propaganda, weapons and oral histories come together brilliantly in one of Kansas City’s most cherished landmarks.
Jazz heads need to hoof it down to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Missouri’s 18th & Vine District. Even if you’re not a jazz fan (warning: you may soon find yourself downloading scads of it from iTunes), this distinctly American musical art form whose influences can be seen in blues, b-bop, gospel and rhythmic pop, is thought by many to be the soundtrack of the United States’ collective history. You can view musical instruments, photographs and, of course, listen to some of the maestros of jazz such as Charlie “Bird” Parker in one of the neighborhoods where the distinctive Kansas City Jazz sound was formed. The exhibition “Atlantic Diaspora: The Musical and Social Influences of Africans in Mexico and the United States” is a must-see (ending September 30, 2010). Don’t forget the nearby Blue Room jazz club containing artifacts from the jazz era and featuring national and local jazz acts as well as spoken-word performances (finger-snaps expected and appreciated.)