Springfield Art Museum unveils plan to turn site into a world-class attraction

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Springfield Art Museum has proposed a multi-million dollar renovation to turn the museum into a world-class attraction, kind of like the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas.

The Springfield Art Museum presented a new 30 Year Master Plan to City Council on Oct. 9, 2018. Renderings show transformations planned to the museum building and the surrounding area. Springfield News Leader

Museum director Nick Nelson presented the proposal to the Springfield City Council on Tuesday. The plans would turn the museum into a multi-story building meant as a community hub with trails and a meandering stream.

The Springfield News-Leader reports Nelson said the project would cost about $17 million if it’s completed all at once.

The museum board is considering having the construction done in three phases. After the renovation, the museum will continue to offer free admission.

The Springfield Art Museum presented a new 30 Year Master Plan to City Council on Oct. 9, 2018. Renderings show transformations planned to the museum building and the surrounding area.

Nelson said a construction timeline depends on when funding is available.

A walking and biking trail will connect the museum and adjacent Phelps Grove Park to the Water Wise garden to the south and to Fassnight Park to the west.

Architecture firm BNIM has been working with the museum to develop a master plan for the building and surrounding area. BNIM has offices in Kansas City, Des Moines, and San Diego. It has done work for the Nelson-Atkins Museum and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts.

The Springfield Art Museum is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. The founder, Deborah Weisel, had a “vision of an organization that would awaken the civic consciousness of our community,” said Nelson.

“We’re trying to carry this vision forward and into the community” with a greater impact for the next 90 years, he said.


The museum has been speaking with people about what they want out of the site, and one of the main things that keeps coming up is a strong focus on nature.

People said they wanted the museum to be more bike-friendly, to have co-working spaces, to offer more artist studios, and to be eye-catching.

The new vision incorporates the winding creek, trail connections, a landscape dotted with sculptures, as well as an outdoor learning area.

The museum also plans to put a median dotted with trees on Brookside Avenue, making it into an “entry boulevard” into the University Heights neighborhood.

Parking spaces will be constructed along Bennett Street, west of the building and connecting with parking for Phelps Grove Park.

Increasing educational opportunities

Nelson said the museum has seen an “incredible growth” in visitor visits and events, and now it needs more room to expand. The previous year, there were more than 60,500 visitors, up more than 70 percent from 2012.

The current design of the building leads to several “dead ends” on the east side rather than keeping steady foot traffic. The renovation would allow for better circulation.

The educational wing will be updated to offer more activities, studios, and tools for artists to grow their talents.

“We want to find something that is not only 21st century, but almost 22nd century,” Nelson said.

The new vision for the museum includes an area that could host both indoor and outdoor events, upgrades to the existing auditorium, and improvements to the galleries.

The updated museum could include an area for food and drink.


Funding for the new museum will define the project’s timeline. Nelson said the museum is doing extensive research to figure out how to get this project rolling.

The development of the master plan was funded with a $250,000 donation, to be paid over five years, by an anonymous donor.

Council members lavished praise upon the museum’s new plan on Tuesday.

“Springfield has many best kept secrets, and the art museum is one of them,” said Mayor Ken McClure. He noted that the future vision fits well with council’s goal of making the city attractive to new businesses and young professionals.

Visiting the museum today

The Springfield Art Museum has more than 10,000 works of art in its permanent collection. Art pieces have been incorporated since 1928 with the purchase of two paintings, landscapes by Philadelphia artist, Mary Butler.

Special collections include: American water media, art of the Midwest, and printmaking. There are also collections containing textiles, decorative arts, pottery, and ceramics from Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Outside the museum is a sculpture garden, including the well known and loved Springfield landmark, Sun Target II by John Henry. People in Springfield often call it “The French Fries.”

Missing Andy Warhol screen prints

Andy Warhol “Soup Can” prints were stolen from the museum a little over two years ago. The F.B.I. is offering a $25,000 reward for the recovery of the seven screen prints. The art had been part of the Springfield art collection since 1985; the prints were on display in a special exhibit of British and American pop art.

The prints were from a later series called Campbell’s Soup 1, and not the original set of 32 soup can paintings by Warhol. The F.B.I. estimates that the total value of the stolen prints, which came in a set of 10, to be about $500,000.

The thieves made off with seven of the 10 prints: the Beef, Vegetable, Tomato, Onion, Green Pea, Chicken Noodle, and Black Bean.

The Springfield Police Department and the F.B.I.’s Art Crime unit are working together to investigate the thefts.

Even though thousands of prints were made,  the stolen works will be difficult to sell at auctions or to galleries. The authorities watch these avenues closely, and collectors report thieves.

At the museum in Springfield, only three prints remain in the exhibition, which is now closed to the public: Pepper Pot, Cream of Mushroom, and Consommé (beef).

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