Shuttlecocks. Glass Labyrinth. Walking Wall. And now, Art Course. The most recent addition to the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park has enlivened the south lawn of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art this summer, as visitors embrace the fun of playing mini golf against the grand backdrop of the original classical building and the glowing Bloch Building.
The course is nestled among trees and terraces, just steps away from the original masterpieces that inspired each of the nine holes. While they play, visitors can also enjoy the new Terrace Snack Bar, which offers snacks and cold beverages, plus picnics to order on Friday evenings, which can be enjoyed on the lawn with music from guest DJs and local bands.
This new initiative is part of the ongoing evolution of the Sculpture Park. The museum is fortunate to occupy a 22-acre campus in the heart of Kansas City, considered one of the most spectacular public spaces in the country. With the acquisition of the monumental Henry Moore sculptures in 1989, the museum’s lawn took on the added dimension of an outdoor art gallery. Each new acquisition underscored the importance of the Sculpture Park, including the 1994 addition of four Shuttlecocks. (Is there a more iconic image for Kansas City than the giant, playful birdies, created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen?) More stellar art followed, with the installation of Roxy Paine’s stainless steel Ferment in 2011, Robert Morris’s Glass Labyrinth in 2013, and, currently underway, Andy Goldsworthy’s Walking Wall.
Beyond the world-class art, the Sculpture Park has become part of the city’s DNA. In the spring and summer, weddings, proms, quinceañeras and family photos are ubiquitous on the lush, green lawn. Festivals such as Big Picnic bring music and dancing, and impromptu Frisbee, soccer and badminton games are scattered amongst the sunbathers and picnickers.
The Sculpture Park is the epitome of a “gathering place,” an oasis in the city. Building on that, leaders at the museum continually ask how to engage the community, how to present art in new ways and how to create unexpected experiences for visitors.
In 2017, the museum turned for inspiration to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where an artist-designed mini golf course — a bit of unexpected whimsy at a museum — has become a welcome escape from gallery walls. At the Nelson-Atkins, leaders wanted something more personal, more connected, something that would herald the museum’s day-to-day work to preserve, interpret and collect fine works of art. This led to the idea that a mini golf course should be inspired by works of art in the Nelson-Atkins collection.
A call for designs went out two years ago, and the submissions rolled in, with drawings and models that reflected art ranging from Ancient Egypt to Contemporary. Ideas came from elementary school children, art students, architects and retirees, and selecting just nine holes was a difficult task. Ultimately, the winning designs emerged, and the effort began to make the course a reality.
Two imaginative collaborators worked with the museum staff for months — Hallmark Creative Marketing Studio and A to Z Theatrical Supply and Service Inc. Hallmark’s team, led by Jenny Lee, took the idea of a mini golf course and gave it the playful brand Art Course, complete with clever verbiage to introduce the concept to the community, as well as crisp graphics that captured the essence of the project. To actually build the course, the museum turned to A to Z Theatrical Supply, the fabrication partner that made a visually stunning installation for the museum’s revered Sculpture Park.
Just as Art Course reflects the priority of engaging with the community, the Nelson-Atkins has another initiative to welcome visitors. During summer months, the museum will be open on Mondays, typically a day when art museums are closed. Director & CEO Julián Zugazagoitia took note of the growing number of visitors who wanted to come to the museum on holiday Mondays, such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, and the museum will consider extending the new schedule even after the summer.
As the summer unfolds, so do the possibilities. Visitors can now stroll through the Sculpture Park, even on Mondays, grab a cold drink from the Terrace Snack Bar, and maybe even score a hole-in-one.
–Casey Claps, Manager, Strategic Initiatives for the Director & CEO