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Kansas City Councilmen Differ On American Jazz Museum's Path Forward

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
A consultant's report has recommended significant organizational changes at the American Jazz Museum.

Two Kansas City Council members on Thursday introduced very different resolutions in response to a consultant's report suggesting drastic measures to address financial and other problems at the American Jazz Museum. 

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner called for restricting city funds for the museum, re-directing or holding some of the $730,000 in supplemental budget appropriations until the museum reports "its progress on implementing the Museum Management Consultant's recommendation to refresh AJM's staff and Board leadership" as specified in the report released April 9

Councilman Jermaine Reed, who serves on the museum's board of directors, requested that the museum receive the appropriations, and that the city's contract with the museum, due to expire at the end of April, be extended for two extra months. Reed's ordinance also asked that the museum have 15 working days to respond to the consultant's recommendations.

The city hired San Francisco-based MMC to conduct an assessment last year after months of challenges at the museum, including a $1 million deficit.

The report lists 26 recommendations to align the museum with industry standards, as well as increase accountability and sustainability. Five recommendations call for immediate action, including the suggestion that the museum be closed "for a predetermined period of time" (less than a year) to allow the organization to "save costs and focus on basic operating needs."

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

The report also recommended a "refresh" of staff and board leadership and paring down the board to a "small, core group" of about 8 to 10 members.

"I wanted to be sure that we could give the professional courtesy to the museum staff and also the board of directors to be able to respond, very similar to any other audit report," Reed told KCUR.

These two resolutions are likely to come up for discussion Wednesday in the Council's finance and governance committee. Wagner serves as chair. 

The board of directors maps a path forward

On Tuesday, the museum's board of directors met for the first time since the release of the critical assessment. During a closed session, Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte announced that the board would be given more time to respond. 

"I just asked the board to prepare their response to those recommendations — all 26 of them — and have it before the finance committee on or before May 9, 2018," Schulte told KCUR, "so that we can start the conversation about implementation: Who does what, when."

Schulte said he had "ideas about how we move forward with implementation," but wanted to hear from the board.

"The assessment report is like an audit to us," said executive director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner. "We are taking the documentation and responding to the city."

But for now, the museum is still open, said Kositany-Buckner, and she'll continue to focus on what's ahead. 

"This weekend, we have over 50 schools at the 18th and Vine Student Jazz Festival. We have Brubeck Brothers coming up in the Blue Room, they are the sons of Dave Brubeck. And we are also launching International Jazz Day (on April 30) in partnership with the Mutual Musicians Foundation," she said.

"We are very, very excited about what's happening in April," she added, "and what continues to happen at the jazz museum."

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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