Months After Scathing Report, A New Board Takes Over At Kansas City's American Jazz Museum | KCUR

Months After Scathing Report, A New Board Takes Over At Kansas City's American Jazz Museum

Nov 20, 2018

Kansas City's troubled American Jazz Museum has new leadership after its interim board of directors unanimously elected a new board Tuesdsay afternoon.

The museum has been led by that interim board, and has not had an executive director, since Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner and most of the 22-member board resigned last spring after a highly critical consultants' report released in early April.

The report called for a "complete rebirth, starting with its leadership, but continuing with a revamped financial model, visitor experience, and operational infrastructure."

Two members of the interim board, Mike Gerken and Angie Atkinson, will stay on through the end of the year to help the new members learn the complex history of the beleaguered institution.

“I’ve been on a lot of boards and this is the most complicated one I’ve been involved with,” said Gerken, who chaired the interim body. “I hope (the new board) quickly finds a new executive director and pulls in folks from the civic, corporate and foundation communities to define the next step for this wonderful asset.”

Looking forward

It was a day to focus on the future and a new direction for the repository of Kansas City jazz memorabilia and history.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who recently handpicked the new board nominees, opened the meeting with a rousing pep talk.

"We will move forward without regard to personal agendas, without regard to politics, to blow this thing up and be the asset it is meant to be,” he said to hollers and applause around the table.

In an interview with KCUR, the mayor declined to address the museum's difficult past.

"You know, I don’t want to get into that," he said. "Rather than look at what’s been a problem, I’d rather look at what are the opportunities and let the folks on the new board work on those."

Among the board members approved Tuesday was Mary Davidson, who has been a regional liaison for the U.S. Secretary of Education and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Davidson said she hoped the new board could help the museum be an anchor, to help the city's historic 18th & Vine area “blossom.” She acknowledged that troubles at the museum have added to negative perceptions of the district.

“It’s very difficult,” she said. “But what’s important is that the board decide who and what the museum is and what they would like to be. Then (it) can decide what steps need to be taken."

Besides Davidson, other newly elected board members are:

  • Mitch Butler, a Grammy Award-winning musican and assistant professor in jazz at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music;
  • Niki Lee Donowa, a civic leader who helped establish the district's Jazz Walk of Fame;
  • Dan Cranshaw, an attorney and civic volunteer;
  • Eugene Agee, a vice president at Sprint who managed billions of dollars in company real estate and other assets;
  • Sally Firestone, an advocate for people with disabilities with extensive experience working with non-profits. A survivor of the 1981 Hyatt disaster, Firestone is a quadriplegic who has worked with the Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities and was also on the interim Jazz Museum board;
  • Mary Kemper Wolf, chair of the board of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and a documentary filmmaker and nonprofit consultant;
  • Mark Sappington, an attorney and member of the Missouri Arts Council;
  • Stephenie K. Smith, executive director of the Linwood YMCA, who led its $12 million capital campaign.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org.