Sherry Thomas in Kansas City

Sherry Thomas at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City

At DVDL DD, we love talking to people around the country to see how they relate to cultural institutions, and what ideas they hope to see implemented in their cities. In this installation of Ear to Ground, we took it outside of New York, and Dana Golan interviewed Sherry Thomas from Kansas City (MO) on corona, culture, and her dreams for the city.

 

DG: What is your go-to cultural institution for your own pleasure (library, museum, concert hall, sporting event, etc.) when the city is open as usual?

ST: Kansas City is known for its jazz and I moved down here to be part of this scene. I live in the Jazz District and I love going to the Jazz Museum and the Blue Room. I also love baseball and football games. Oh, and I was lucky to have stumbled upon the National Archives here, where I was able to research the government records of my ancestors. I love doing a little bit of everything, as you can see.

DG: In what ways do you think the coronavirus will impact cultural institutions? Is this something you have talked about with your coworkers?

ST: This Coronavirus outbreak impacts museums all around the world in a very huge way, especially since it happened so fast. It disrupted all of our lives and the livelihood of the arts that we thrive on each and every day. I hope people won’t forget that entire communities depend on and are now unable to connect through the Arts.

We should not let this stop us. For instance, I work at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and our director, Julián Zugazagoitia, gives us early morning updates and goals, and makes sure everyone is well. We set up group emails, texts, and all-staff meetings with staff and volunteers so that we can keep our creative juices flowing.

 

" The Nelson-Atkins Big Picnic, courtesy of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

 DG: Do cultural institutions and museums usually play a big role in the way of life for the people of Kansas City?

ST: A big yes! Cultural institutions are the blood of this city. They build our community. Various museums around here, like the National WWI Museum, hold community events outside of their usual exhibits. And the Nelson-Atkins, for instance, holds events for almost every holiday and celebrates almost every culture. Overall, Kansas City’s museums and institutions do a great job at bringing people together.

It all seems so strange now, but I believe that, when this storm is over, we will be even more creative, energized, and united. This is a chance to rejuvenate, reunite, and welcome everyone back, which I believe will be soon. And, when the sun begins to shine again, there will be a new appreciation for life, community, and the arts.

 

" Liberty Memorial. Image: jpellgen via flickr

 

DG: How has working at a museum changed your perspective on cultural institutions?

ST: I am slightly ashamed to admit that before starting to work at the  Nelson-Atkins, I hadn’t visited since second grade. Once I started work at the museum, I realized how incredible cultural institutions are. I thought to myself, “wow this is incredible; this is a road I’ve never traveled before,” and I then made it a goal to myself to learn more about the arts. I studied art and artists until I became fluent in the work, and I continue to educate myself to this day. I have built such an appreciation for the arts. It’s amazing to me how far I’ve come, especially having no background knowledge in this field. Now, every time we get something new, I try to come up with a spiel to tell the viewers. It’s an incredible experience.

DG: Do you have any ideas or hopes for how museums could better serve people once they reopen?

ST: Yes! Stay inclusive—that’s most important, in my opinion. Continue to set up unique ways to educate, motivate, and entertain the communities in which they serve, as well as worldwide audiences. Offering classes for kids and adults is a great way to do this. And, lastly, never feel settled; always thrive for more. It’s like getting a black belt and then going through the levels within the black belt to keep growing.

Kansas City Country Club Plaza. Image: Brent Flanders via flickr
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