Weeks after the end of World War I in 1918, Kansas Citians started fundraising for a memorial. A community fund drive raised more than $2.5 million, and Liberty Memorial opened on Nov. 11, 1926. In 2006, the National World War I Museum, a $102 million project "dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War" opened to the public.
Future expansion was always envisioned for the museum because less than 10 percent of the collection of World War I objects and documents is on view at any one time.
"There's not a week that doesn't go by that we're not adding to the collection," says Matt Naylor, president and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial. "The collection that we have needs more space to be able to tell this compelling narrative of the enduring impact of the war."
In 2014, a centennial capital campaign was launched to raise funds for a new exhibition gallery and an enhanced outdoor gathering space, and to support the museum's programming and endowment. More than $5 million in donations has been raised so far — and now, construction is about to begin.
"What makes this expansion, I think, really a great addition is that it's within the envelope of the building," says Naylor. "So there's no outdoor impact. It doesn't impact the historical appeal of this remarkable monument and memorial."
Plans are still in the works for the gallery, slated for 4,000 square feet of already existing space, although the museum is in talks with other institutions, such as the Imperial War Museums in London and the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C., to expand partnerships.
"We have some very exciting things lined up for 2018," says Naylor. "The new gallery is going to provide us the opportunity to bring to Kansas City exhibitions, narrative objects, paintings, which would otherwise perhaps not come to Kansas City, and perhaps even in some instances not come to the United States."
Upgrades to the museum grounds will include a renovated outdoor venue for community and corporate events, as well as landscape improvements.
Lead gifts for the fundraising campaign include $2.1 million from the Hall Family Foundation, $1 million from the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, and $1 million from the Jack F. and Glenna Y. Wylie Charitable Foundation, as well as $500,000 from the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, $500,000 from the Sunderland Foundation, and a major gift of $250,000 from the Sosland Foundation.
The Missouri Development Finance Board also contributed $1.8 million in tax credits in support of the project.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter,@lauraspencer.