KC museum director recognized for contributions to arts

Julián Zugazagoitia. Photo by Bob Greenspan, courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art .

Julián Zugazagoitia. Photo by Bob Greenspan, courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art .

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One of the most distinguished arts honors in Europe has been bestowed to CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Julián Zugazagoitia. L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (The Order of Arts and Letters) is a title given by the French Ministry of Culture that recognizes significant contributions to the field of arts and literature. The distinction pays homage to Zugazagoitia’s impressive international career in the arts.

“We are so fortunate to have a director at the Nelson-Atkins of Julián’s stature,” said Shirley Bush Helzberg, chairman of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees. “This award recognizes international achievement in the arts, and Julián’s brilliant career and diverse path truly make him a citizen of the world and an exemplary example of arts achievement.”

In March 2005, Zugazagoitia was initially received into L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres at the level of Chevalier, the first of three degrees of merit: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer) and Commandeur (Commander). The new title, Officier, marks a promotion in rank and is a testament to Zugazagoitia’s expanding impact.

L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres was created in 1957 by French Minister of Culture André Malreaux. To be considered for the award, the honoree must be a person who has “significantly contributed to the enrichment of the French cultural inheritance,” according to the government guidelines. Membership is not limited to French nationals, and candidates who are not French citizens are proposed once a year. However, the number of awards given annually is restricted, making Zugazagoitia one of no more than 60 officiers to be named this year.

“For many years, you enjoyed an international reputation as an expert and ambassador of the arts,” said Stéphane Martin, President of musée du quai Branly, at a ceremony on July 21, 2014 in Paris where he presented the honor to Zugazagoitia. “You have earned this reputation not just through the considerable work that you have executed over the course of these years, but also through your thirst for discovery and embracing cultures.”

Since becoming the Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins in 2010, Zugazagoitia has opened the museum to a much larger audience, has increased attendance by 28 percent to nearly 445,000 annually, and has promoted a high level of scholarship with unique exhibitions and programs that highlight both the collection and the strengths of the curatorial and education teams. His international perspective resulted in exhibitions as diverse as “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939,” “Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet,” and “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky.”

He champions community involvement as well as artist commissions, such as Robert Morris’ Glass Labyrinth. Under Zugazagoitia’s leadership, a new strategic plan was approved by the board of trustees in Spring 2013 that envisions a cultural district that would further raise the arts profile in Kansas City.

Zugazagoitia holds an art history degree from the École du Louvre and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Sorbonne Paris IV, with a focus on Aesthetics and Modernism in the arts. His work as a consultant, lecturer and curator has involved projects around the globe with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles. From 1999 to 2002, he served as executive assistant to the director for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. During his tenure at El Museo del Barrio, a leading museum of Latino and Latin American art, Zugazagoitia led the institution through a $44 million capital campaign and a full renovation, which opened in 2009 to critical acclaim.


Julián Zugazagoitia. Photo by Bob Greenspan, courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art .

Julián Zugazagoitia. Photo by Bob Greenspan, courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art .