Shirley Bush Helzberg Named Chair of Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees

To succeed Sarah J. Rowland, who will remain on board.

Sarah Rowland Photo by Bob Greenspan

Sarah F. Rowland, Chair of the Board of Trustees of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, announced at the April meeting of the Board that as part of a planned transition in leadership, she will step down as Chair and will be succeeded by civic leader and arts patron Shirley Bush Helzberg, effective May 1. Mrs. Rowland, who has been Chair for the past four years, will remain on the Board.

“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 & 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.”

Mrs. Helzberg, who has been involved with the leadership of the Nelson-Atkins since 1996, is known as one of Kansas City’s most active community leaders and a supporter of dozens of civic efforts and service groups. She has been the President of the Board of Directors of the Kansas City Symphony since 1995, and she has served as Chairman of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, President of Starlight Theatre and Founding Chairman of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City.

She and her husband, Barnett C. Helzberg Jr., former Chairman of the Board of Helzberg Diamonds, own, enjoy and appreciate African art and helped endow the African gallery in the Bloch Building. They co-founded University Academy Charter School, serving more than 1,000 students in Kansas City, and they were named Kansas Citians of the Year in 2002. Helzberg Hall, the magnificent concert venue at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, carries their name as well.

Beyond her passion for the arts, Mrs. Helzberg brings professional experience in the areas of marketing, advertising and real estate. She led the restoration of Webster House, a Romanesque-style school next door to the Kauffman Center, which is now a destination for shopping and dining, as well as other renovated and adaptive reuse projects in downtown properties.

Shirley Helzberg photo by David Riffel
Shirley Helzberg photo by David Riffel

“I am honored to serve along with other extremely dedicated members of the Board of Trustees, civic leaders, a fine-tuned administrative staff, and a gifted and talented curatorial team that brings scholarship and international recognition to the Nelson-Atkins and the Kansas City region,” Mrs. Helzberg said. “The enjoyment of art has had a profound experience on my life. 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.”

Mrs. Helzberg assumes the role of Chair that has been held since 2009 by Mrs. Rowland, who took over the position following the death of Harry C. McCray Jr. Mrs. Rowland led the museum through the celebration of the esteemed tenure of Director Emeritus Marc F. Wilson and the search for the museum’s new Director, Zugazagoitia.

“We have all been privileged to work with Mrs. Rowland during this time of transition, as she strengthened our governance and as we worked to complete our strategic plan,” Zugazagoitia said. “Together we have embraced a new vision for the future, of bringing the highest art to everyone, unleashing the power of art and engaging with the spirit of the community.”

Mrs. Rowland and her husband, Landon, have been longtime supporters of the museum and have provided significant funding for the remodeling and reinstallation of the American galleries, unveiled in 2009. In 2002, they established The Ever Glades Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the acquisition of American art.

“The privilege and opportunity to follow remarkable and gifted civic leaders in their quest to enlarge and enliven the museum is an opportunity for which I am most grateful,” said Mrs. Rowland. “With an exquisite collection, a gifted staff of scholars and museum professionals and an enthusiastic and supportive constituency, the institution is positioned for extraordinary achievements in the century ahead. I am delighted to have been a part of that quest.”

A graduate of Smith College, Northampton, Mass., Mrs. Rowland’s professional experience was in publishing and in development for not-for-profit organizations.  Her volunteer associations and board services in Kansas City have focused on historic preservation and the visual and performing arts.  She is a farmer, a horsewoman and an amateur musician.

The museum begins its fiscal year May 1 with the following members on the Board of Trustees: Mrs. Helzberg, Mrs. Rowland, Charles S. Sosland, Mary Atterbury, Robert Bernstein, Paul DeBruce, Laura Fields, David Fowler, J. Scott Francis, J. Peter Gattermeir, Richard C. Green Jr., Julia Irene Kauffman, Alan R. Marsh, Kent Sunderland, Elizabeth Bloch Uhlmann, Adelaide C. Ward, Maurice Watson, and Chairs Emeriti Henry W. Bloch, Donald J. Hall and Estelle Sosland.

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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