The Kansas City Museum Foundation said this week it wants to raise money to supplement reconstruction of the facility on Gladstone Boulevard. The goal is $2 million.
The museum is an important part of Kansas City, but it has struggled over the years — for attendance, a mission, needed repairs and upgrades. Governance has been an issue.
Virtually all have faced financial and governance problems of one sort or another, at one time or another.
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The museums rely on a volatile mix of donations, grants, endowments, admission fees and space rental to make the books balance.
For some facilities, taxes are in the mix as well. Kansas Citians pay a small museum property tax, about $5.60 a year for the owner of a $150,000 home. It raises $1.6 million for the Kansas City Museum.
The museum expects just 13,000 visitors this year. That’s about 123 taxpayer dollars per guest.
Clearly, more should be done to attract visitors to the facility once renovations are finished. That’s true for all the cultural facilities in the Kansas City region.
That work will be easier if the area’s museums work more closely together.
I once proposed a regional museum authority — a small office with a volunteer board that could coordinate fundraising and marketing for all of the area’s museums and attractions.
A regional authority would help local museum operators exchange ideas. It could organize volunteer activities and help museums avoid event overlap or link events together. And it might help with raising cash.
Ticketing and promotion might be easier, too.
The authority would not assume governance responsibilities for any facility. It would act as an honest broker among the museums, trying to boost visibility and attendance for all of them.
I also thought a museum authority should seek a small regional tax, paid by residents and visitors, to supplement the budgets of cultural facilities and get them out of the mode of perpetually scrambling for funds. The money could be distributed each year based on need and each museum’s own effort.
That’s no longer a good idea, at least for now.
Kansas Citians have shown themselves quite willing to increase taxes for public safety, schools, sports stadiums — even Union Station. They’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars if they think the goal is worthwhile, the taxes are fair and the money is being spent efficiently.
In 2011, voters in Jackson and Clay counties approved a sales tax for improvements to the zoo. Last year, for the first time in its history, the zoo attracted more than one million visitors.
But the demands on taxpayers continue to grow unabated. Kansas will almost certainly raise taxes substantially this year. Kansas City has two proposed tax increases on the April ballot. Home values are up, pushing property taxes even higher.
The tax structure in the metropolitan area remains regressive and relatively high.
And the list of needs is long. Education, transportation, infrastructure and public safety are undoubtedly higher priorities than history, no matter how much you or I might like it to be different.
With taxes high and the need for more basic services obvious, it would be hard to convince most voters to support a museum tax.
The Kansas City Museum is an important part of the area’s history and culture, and it deserves our support. It deserves your money, too, if you can afford to give.
But taxpayers’ responsibility for the museum — and similar facilities — has been met for now and need not be increased.