An architect’s rendering shows a new education wing for the Springfield Art Museum with outdoor space on the south side of a large glass facade. (Courtesy City of Springfield)

It is the largest one-time gift the Springfield Art Museum has ever received — $5 million in a single donation.

Art Museum Director Nick Nelson announced Thursday that the city of Springfield received $5 million from the Sunderland Foundation to put toward a $25 million capital improvement campaign.

The gift from the Sunderland Foundation — established by a former president of the Ash Grove Cement Company, founded in 1882 to produce lime for construction — speeds up the art museum’s plan to complete renovations and additions in time for its official 100th anniversary. 

Springfield Art Museum Director Nick Nelson (standing, center) announces that the museum received a $5 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation at a ceremony March 3. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Why care?

The Springfield Art Museum is controlled and operated by the city of Springfield, and is supported by a mixture of donations and sales tax revenue. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum at the intersection of National and Brookside attracted an average of 63,000 visitors per year.

Who should care

  • Art enthusiasts and Springfield Art Musuem guests
  • Artists
  • Stakeholders in Springfield’s tourism economy
  • People looking for something to do when they visit Springfield

“A 30-year master plan has now been accelerated to a seven-year project with anticipated completion in 2028, the museum’s 100th anniversary,” Nelson said. “We are deeply grateful for the Sunderland family and the foundation for their confidence in what the museum is and can be to our region.”

The gift is meant to boost the museum’s large-scale construction plans and motivate others to invest in the arts.

“The Sunderland family has expressed their desire that this transformational gift will inspire others to give, and it will raise the profile of the museum and the importance of the arts and culture to the quality of place in Springfield,” Nelson said.

The museum and its art collection were deeded to the city of Springfield in 1946. The building at the intersection of National and Brookside was built in 1958, at what was then the edge of town. The building from 1958, now in the middle of town, is currently the art museum’s education wing. 

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said the work to improve the art museum is a key part of making Springfield a desirable place to live and a place for tourists to visit for decades to come.

“This will result in a dramatic increase in the local and state economic impact that the museum has, with over $5 million and beyond pumped back into our economy each year, an excellent return on our investment,” McClure said.

The mayor said that the museum has now raised more than $9 million of its $25 million goal. McClure said the museum, and its ability to be made into an outdoor and indoor destination, is a key part of Springfield’s master plan for the next 20 years, called Forward SGF.

“Our Springfield Art Museum is and will continue to be a cultural crown jewel in the Queen City for generations to come, and with the Sunderland Foundation’s generosity, it has launched this remarkable project,” McClure said.

The museum had more than 63,000 visitors in 2019. The goal is for average attendance to exceed 100,000 visitors per year in 2028 and every year after that.

“We envision the Springfield Art Museum will grow to be a cultural tourism destination,” Nelson said.

Sunderland Foundation established by longtime president of Ash Grove Cement

Lester T. Sunderland, president of the Ash Grove Cement Company for 33 years, established the Sunderland Foundation in 1945.

“Grants for planning, design, construction, renovation, repairs and restoration of facilities are considered. Areas of interest include higher education, youth serving agencies, health facilities, community buildings, museums, civic projects and energy efficient affordable housing projects sponsored by qualified tax-exempt organizations,” a statement on the Sunderland Foundation’s website reads.

The Sunderland Foundation also has a list of things it does not do: award grants for yearly operating expenses, award grants for endowments, award grants or provide sponsorship for special events, fund grants for individuals or secondary schools or provide scholarships.

According to the Sunderland Foundation, it provided $23 million for arts and culture projects in 2021. It distributes grants in four areas: higher education, human services, arts and culture and health care and hospitals.

In 2021, Missouri State University received $250,000 from the Sunderland Foundation to help construct the facility used for Tent Theatre. Ozarks Technical Community College was awarded a $1 million grant for construction of an advanced manufacturing building. Community Partnership of the Ozarks received $250,000 toward construction of the O’Reilly Center for Hope

The SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging in Springfield was awarded $225,000 to expand the food distribution effort at its senior center. In total, the Sunderland Foundation awarded more than $181.9 million to 337 beneficiaries in 2021.

The Ash Grove Cement Company was founded in Greene County in 1882. It is now based in Overland Park, Kansas, and makes more than 14 million tons of cement per year at 12 different plants, according to the company’s website.

An architect’s rendering shows what the new education wing of the Springfield Art Museum would look like at night if a large add-on project is completed as planned by 2028. (Courtesy City of Springfield)

Museum master plan connects to area

In 2018, the Springfield Art Museum had a master plan produced by Kansas City-based architecture firm BNIM. Later in 2022, the museum anticipates receiving the schematic for a new education wing that will replace part of the building constructed in 1958.

The master plan calls for the construction of a new education wing with a large learning center, art studio classrooms, a communal studio for artists, “flex spaces,” and administrative space for museum staff and partner organizations. The entrance will be on the south side of the building, which faces Brookside Drive.

“Ample glass walls break down barriers between inside and outdoors, while highlighting the activities taking place within the museum,” part of the master plan summary reads.

The master plan also calls for Brookside Drive, which runs along the south side of the museum from National Avenue, to be made into a boulevard that serves to welcome guests into the museum.

The master plan also calls for changes to the museum’s west entrance, which would be reoriented toward an outdoor amphitheater, lawn, and trails leading toward nearby Phelps Grove Park.

A project to relocate a parking lot to the north side of the museum property and better connect the museum grounds to Phelps Grove Park is underway and expected to wrap up sometime in July 2022. In the future, more parking will be on the north side of the museum property, and parking lots on the east side of the building will be converted to become expanded parts of the building.

The Springfield Art Museum received a Sunderland Foundation grant in 2020 in the amount of half a million dollars to relocate a parking lot.

A map illustrates the plan for a trail connector between the Springfield Art Museum and Grant Avenue Parkway, using Phelps Grove Park as part of the outdoor trail. (Courtesy City of Springfield)

Plan includes improved outdoor grounds and connection to trail system

One of the art museum master plan’s key goals is to make the grounds off of National Avenue more connected and more accessible to Springfield’s trail system. The pending development of the pedestrian Grant Avenue Parkway is a factor in the plan for the Fassnight Creek Greenway Trail.

The trail connection would start at Clay Avenue on the west side of Phelps Grove Park, then go east through the park, across Virginia Avenue and Kings Avenue and end at Brookside Drive on the art museum grounds. When the trail is finished, it will connect to Fassnight Park, and ultimately to the Grant Avenue Parkway.

The path would be about 1,600 feet long with ADA-compliant ramps. The Fassnight trail project will be funded through federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grants with the city funding a 20-percent match through the 1/8-cent transportation sales tax.

The Grant Avenue Parkway project is a plan to create an off-street pedestrian and bicycle pathway along Grant Avenue from Sunshine Street to College Street in downtown Springfield. 

The south hub of the Grant Avenue Parkway project area is the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium on Sunshine Street off of Campbell Avenue. The northern hub is the IDEA Commons at Mill Street with a proposed center city loop around part of downtown Springfield.

Construction on the Fassnight Creek Greenway Trail is underway on the south side of the Springfield Art Museum along Brookside Avenue. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Tax credits possible source of funding

Nelson was at Historic City Hall on Feb. 22, the night that the Springfield City Council voted 8-0 to approve a resolution authorizing an application for tax credits “to encourage and incentivize private contributions from individuals and institutions towards the completion of the art museum’s master plan.”

“The Missouri Development Finance Board operates a program that provides 50-percent tax credits to persons and qualified institutions making donations to qualified projects,” Nelson said.

Contributions are made directly to the Missouri Development Finance Board, and donors are provided tax credit certificates. The city then requests disbursements from the finance board on behalf of the art museum.

Nelson said that Springfield previously received tax credits from the Missouri Finance Board for a list of projects, including the Discovery Center, Founders Park, the Creamery Art Center, the History Museum on the Square and Ozarks Food Harvest.

“The plan, of course, for the museum is to establish a cultural tourism destination for Springfield with ancillary benefits including improvement to the surrounding neighborhood, access to trails — this would help talent retention and attraction for the city and provide an educational and cultural resource for the city,” Nelson said.

McClure said he was pleased for Springfield to have the opportunity to seek the tax credits for the art museum.

“The Missouri Development Finance Board has a great track record, a great reputation for doing work such as this, so this is a very, very worthy project,” McClure said.

Nelson, the Springfield Art Museum staff and the Springfield City Council are waiting to hear back on whether or not the application for tax credits has been approved.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger