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Kansas City's American Jazz Museum Leaders Say Temporary Closure Would Send 'Wrong Signal'

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3

A day after a consultants' report suggested that the American Jazz Museum is "in need of complete rethinking, akin to starting a new museum" and suggested a temporary closure, the museum's board of directors met at the Gem Theater to parse the critical assessment of the museum's finances, leadership and exhibits.

After Tuesday's two-hour meeting of the executive committee, museum board president Anita Maltbia told KCUR that "no decisions have been made" about the museum's next steps. She was expected to meet this week with City Manager Troy Schulte to discuss the report's recommendations and a timeline for response.

The city of Kansas City, Missouri, hired Museum Management Consultants, Inc. last year after growing concerns about the museum. The 62-page report released Monday listed 26 recommendations to align the museum with industry standards and increase accountability and sustainability. Five of these recommendations require immediate action, including the closure of the museum "for a predetermined period of time (approximately one year)" to allow the organization to plan for the future and re-tool the visitor experience. 

Other high priorities: a "refresh" of the staff and board leadership; a planning committee of city, board, staff and community leaders; an inclusive strategic planning process; and new exhibit designers to rethink "the entire museum experience."

"One of the things I was struck by was how many of the recommendations really fall right in line with our strategic plan," Maltbia told KCUR. "I thought the consultants did their job. There were a few things that I differ with, but overall, I think that they did take a good look."

She disagreed, however, with the consultants' suggestion to consider closing the museum — even temporarily. 

"Even as we worked to get our arms around the financial issues, we kept operating. We kept doing some things that were in the strategic plan. We continued our jazz storytelling," said Maltbia. "So we have continued to keep the value of this institution up and functional for this community and beyond." 

Closing the museum, Maltbia said, would send the wrong signal.

"That would slow our momentum. In some instances, that would bring it to a halt. We really don't need to go back to square one."

But another recommendation — to downsize the 20-member board, and possibly recruit new members — would be "fine," she said.

"Our current board members definitely are passionate about the genre (of jazz), and they definitely bring technical and managerial skills," Maltbia said. "But to have people who also have access to resources, financial resources mainly, would also be a plus."

The next steps, she said, "are to keep on keeping on."

Across the street, inside the Blue Room, the museum's executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner said that the assessment can be viewed as an opportunity to educate and re-brand the museum.

"About 50 percent of our visitors are outside the state of Missouri and Kansas. There are a number of people we get from Europe and all other places, so there's appreciation of what this means all over the world. We don't have it here in Kansas City," Kositany-Buckner said.

"We are going to be working diligently, looking at those recommendations, and responding," she said.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

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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