23 Employees To Leave Nelson-Atkins Museum With 'Enhanced' Retirement

Nov 14, 2017

Editor's note: After this story was published on November 14, 2017, the Nelson-Atkins Museum expressed concerns to KCUR about how the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation had reported financial information cited in the article. Based on additional information, this story was updated on December 11, 2017. 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Monday announced to employees that 23 staffers would be leaving, taking advantage of an "enhanced benefit option for retirement."

The museum currently has 250 employees, including part-timers. The employees are departing from nearly every division of the museum, including administration, curatorial and information services.

"A voluntary retirement program was offered to select, long-serving employees as a way to reward them for their years of service to the museum," Kathleen Leighton, the museum's manager of media relations and video production, told KCUR in an email on Tuesday. 

Leighton said the employees would be replaced.

"The museum expects to have the same number of full-time staff, but jobs may be different in terms of skill sets or job duties," she said. 

The museum's retirement plan changed recently, Leighton said, from a traditional pension plan to a defined contribution plan, and a "one-time offer" was extended to staff. 

Three long-time curators opted for the museum's retirement package, including Robert Cohon, curator of ancient art, Leesa Fanning, curator of contemporary art, and Jan Schall, curator of modern art. Fanning joined the museum in 2005, Schall in 1996, and Cohon in 1985. 

Schall told KCUR she was retiring at age 65 as planned. Her last day will be Friday, March 2.

"Each staff member worked with management to select a [departure] date depending on their circumstances and projects. The timing will stretch over the next eight months," Leighton said.

The Nelson-Atkins has an operating budget of nearly $30 million, and 45 percent of the budget is generated by income from a $400 million endowment. About 30 percent of the budget comes from contributions from families, individuals, as well as foundations.

In fiscal year 2017, the museum reported 555,000 visitors, up from 371,000 in fiscal year 2011. 

Filings with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation show expenses at the museum exceeding revenue since 2009; most recently, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation shows that in 2016, expenses of nearly $39.5 million were about $13 million over revenue.

But Leighton says those numbers do not include additional support the museum receives from the William Rockhill Nelson Trust, a related organization whose tax filings are not included on the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation's website.

"Our audited financial statement, which is the combined way of looking at the museum's financial picture, and is on our website, tells the healthy picture of our finances," Leighton says. "The net financial impact of museum operations has yielded either positive or balanced results since the fiscal year ending April 30, 2009."

Leighton says financial considerations are not a factor in the timing of the retirement announcements.

"We are growing and thriving financially," she says, "so it's not that issue at all."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.