The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, has announced a major new expansion of its gallery space in the run-up to America’s Centennial commemorations. It is the result of a recent and highly successful Call to Duty fundraising drive which saw a host of local institutions and benefactors heeding the museum’s call.
The museum as it currently stands came into being only a decade ago, growing out of the city’s landmark Liberty Memorial, a granite obelisk with accompanying Exhibit and Memory Halls, erected in 1926 to honour the war dead of America.
The fact that the museum and memorial find themselves located in America’s Midwest, however, should not be taken as an indication that it is in some way inward-looking or narrowly focussed. As Museum Director Matthew Naylor is at pains to explain, the gallery’s remit is more all-encompassing:
“The museum is global in its scope. It tells the story of the World War I chronologically, not just in U.S. terms. It’s not parochial in that sense. We have the most diverse content of any World War I museum in the world because we collect globally and we have a global narrative. We take our role as a curator of this key part of the world’s recent history very seriously. We want to help expand the thinking and understanding of the Great War, and the lasting impact it has.”
But as a part of that thinking – and to be able to add to the type and number of exhibitions the museum is able to host – Naylor has decided to opt for further expansion. Hence the Call to Duty campaign. It has so far netted $12.5 million in grants from local philanthropists, including many family foundations. An estimated $5-6 million will be used to build a new gallery which it’s hoped will be ready for use by early 2018.
“The new exhibition area is essentially a white box, a clean gallery space, which can adapt as an environment for a range of different exhibitions, a space which can be either austere or aspirational. And the principal idea behind it, and the exhibitions we hope to show here, is to help other countries tell their own stories of the First World War.”
“Our objective is to bring new content here and to ensure we have return audiences. We believe the new gallery will help us do that because it’ll broaden the scope of loans from other museums – exhibitions from other countries – which might otherwise not come to the U.S. or Kansas City.”
That is a thought echoed by Angela Smart of the Hall Family Foundation, a charitable arm of the Hallmark greetings card business which has donated the largest tranche of money so far to Call to Duty. “We thought we could help Matt Naylor not only grow the footprint of the museum with its new exhibitions and putting more of its own collection on display, but to keep the traffic of visitor numbers up. And not only that, but making it a great attraction for local people – to give them a reason to keep coming back.”