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Economy Rebounding, Kemper Museum Cuts Staff

Tom Otterness' "Crying Giant" outside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
Courtesy of Missouri Department of Tourism
Tom Otterness' "Crying Giant" outside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Despite a recent article in The Kansas City Star titled "Sting of recession fades for Kansas City art museums," the sting has not faded - and perhaps still burns - for newly terminated employees at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

In several waves of cuts - starting at the end of April and again this week - five full-time employees, including the education director and the assistant curator, were summarily dismissed, without prior notice and without severance. At least one employee had worked at the Kemper for nearly a decade.

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1994. The Star detailed how the museum, founded by banker R. Crosby Kemper, Jr., is sustained by major support from Kemper foundations, established by Mr. Kemper as well as members of his family.

“The foundations did well during the recession,” museum spokeswoman Margaret Keough said, “and their support for the museum didn’t fluctuate.”
The Kemper was further insulated from the recession’s effects by an investment fund established with a seven-figure gift from the estate of Phoebe Mooney in 2008. The museum is using the fund’s cash earnings toward operating expenses, Keough said; it also derives earned income from its cafe, shop, catering and memberships. These revenues are all up by more than 20 percent since 2009; the investment fund has grown nearly 40 percent since 2009, Keough said.

Revenue is up, the investment fund has grown, so why the staff cuts?

One of the first staffers to be fired said she was told, "You're not the last." And parting letters this month and last month repeated the language: "citing financial challenges of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chairman of the Board and the Trustees mandated the immediate termination." Crosby Kemper chairs the board.

Museum officials have declined to comment. A press release is expected to provide more information this afternoon.

The following positions are no longer listed on the staff page of the Kemper's website as of 5/18/12 (these were listed on cached pages):

  • Preparator (full-time)
  • Manager, Corporate and Foundation Giving (full-time)
  • Museum Educator, Adult Programs (full-time)
  • Assistant Curator (full-time)
  • Facilities and Operations Assistant (part-time, but previously full-time)
  • Museum Shop Sales Associate (part-time) *
  • Digital Communications Specialist (part-time) *

* Note: these part-time staffers reportedly left on their own terms, for new opportunities.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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