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City Plans To Take Back Management Of Kansas City Museum


The city of Kansas City, Mo. is one step closer to taking back management of the city-owned Kansas City Museum. A contract has been in place with Union Station Kansas City since 2000. It’s taken time and effort to reach a new agreement.

Charting a new path

A proposed city ordinance, discussed Monday in the Finance, Governance and Ethics committee, shifts responsibility for the Kansas City Museum from Union Station to the city’s board of parks and recreation, which manages other cultural assets.

The city will take over storing and maintaining the more than 70,000 artifacts in the collection, from Native American pottery to photography to costumes from the mid-1800's to the present. Curatorial and archival space will also be leased from Union Station for $131,000 a year.

"I think we’ve reached a satisfactory ending that allows the city to protect its important assets and allows Union Station to continue to be compensated for the services that they provide on behalf of the collection," says City Manager Troy Schulte. "It charts a path forward for, hopefully, restoration of Corinthian Hall, and using the museum (mil) levy as it was designed for."

Concerns about the mil levy

Corinthian Hall, a 1910 mansion in the city’s Northeast, has housed the museum since 1940. And the mil levy, a property tax generating about $1.4 million a year in support of the museum, has been a touchy issue over the last decade. In January, the City Council called for an audit of Union Station’s management of the museum. That’s still on hold.

City Council member Jan Marcason says this led to what she describes as "misinformation" about mil levy expenditures.

"And I don’t want to have any lingering concerns that the mil levy has not been used appropriately," says Marcason. "We have gotten regular reports...we’ve seen the collection, we know that it’s been curated appropriately."

Union Station President and CEO George Guastello says after nearly two years of discussion, it’s time to move on.

"Union Station and its board has done its responsibility, due diligence, to provide excess revenue over expenditures above and beyond the 10 percent that the city had asked us to do," says Guastello. "So we leave the museum in a very strong, fiscally sound position. And we also leave it in a fine, curatorial fashion."

The "watchdog" years come to a close

Union Station and the city manager’s office hammered out the new arrangement – along with Jan Marcason, and other City Council members, such as Jim Glover and Scott Wagner, who’s served on the Kansas City Museum advisory board since it was created as a "watchdog."

"The board was formed in 2004 because of a perception – and the perception was not far from reality – that the Kansas City Museum was not being looked after," he says. "(It) was not being supervised, was not being planned for by that organization."

Wagner says the momentum of this advisory board led to the most recent contract with Union Station in 2007, an inventory of the collection (shared by the museum and Union Station), and the beginning of the renovation of Corinthian Hall in 2008.

To date, the city has spent $10 million, but the historic house is still mostly closed for repairs.

"We have a very excellent envelope. We have an excellent HVAC system to the total tune of $10 million dollars, but, now, what do you do inside?" Wagner asked.

New governance ahead

It's estimated at least $20 million more is needed to complete restoration for exhibition and education programming.

According the proposed agreement, the current museum advisory board will be disbanded, and a new 501 (c) 3 called the Kansas City Museum Foundation will advocate and fundraise on the museum's behalf.

The city's parks and recreation department will provide the governance structure, for now. City officials say, it's possible, in the coming years, that management could be transferred to another organization to take on the day-to-day operations.

The City Council is expected to consider the ordinance after Thanksgiving. If approved, it would take effect starting May 1, 2014.

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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