The executive director of the foundering American Jazz Museum said Tuesday she had no plans to resign despite a scathing consultants' report recommending that the museum needed "a complete rebirth, starting with its leadership."
Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner said she agreed with most of the assessment from Museum Management Consultants, made public Monday, which found the 21-year-old institution plagued by financial mismanagement, city politics and an ineffective board of directors that lacked fund-raising prowess.
The museum in the 18th & Vine District has been working to correct many of the problems outlined in the report, Kositany-Buckner said, including the hiring of a new finance director and upgraded management software.
"I think we have made significant progress," she said. "We are truly stabilizing the museum from a financial management standpoint."
Museum board chair Anita Maltbia expressed support for Kositany-Buckner, hired in early 2016 from the Kansas City Public Library, where she served as deputy director.
"There has been extensive work, in-depth work, done to try to get the financial position of the museum clarified and rectified," said Maltbia, a former assistant city manager. "Cheptoo has been a part of that."
Maltbia and Kositany-Buckner did take sharp issue with one recommendation: that the museum be closed while it reorganized (although its public and educational programming should continue).
She acknowledged that the exhibits needed an overhaul, but said the museum serves 6,000 schoolchildren a year who benefit from an introduction to jazz.
"Shutting the exhibits down is shutting down 6,000 kids," she said.
Kositany-Buckner and Maltbia head the non-profit that manages the museum for the city, which owns the facility and collections and provides about a third of its $2.6 million annual budget. They also oversee the Gem Theater and the Blue Room jazz club.
The attractions anchor the 18th & Vine District, which has received at least $80 million in city subsidies over the last 20 years in an effort to create an economically self-sustaining tribute to Kansas City's musical legacy. The museum suffered operating losses of more than $1 million last year, nearly half of it from its first-ever jazz festival.
The museum has 15 days to respond to the report, commissioned by the city in response to the financial losses and other management issues. The city's current operating agreement with the non-profit expires April 30.
When the museum opened in 1997, city officials anticipated that it would eventually wean itself from taxpayer funding. But the report said that it lacked a sophisticated fund-raising operation, taking in just $300,000 last year. Contributions from foundations, corporations and individuals have not grown significantly for the last seven years.
Consultants said the 23-member board, which includes community activists, attorneys and City Council members, needs to be pared down and replaced with members who have proven fund-raising records.
Maltbia agreed, but said the city's corporate and civic leadership have not supported an institution that is closely linked with the city's identity.
"When you consider that Kansas City has for decades touted itself as a jazz town and we have an institution that is called the American Jazz Museum, it would be logical to expect that there would be widespread support," Maltbia siaid. "Here is an institution that showcases jazz, that teaches jazz. The support has not been commensurate with that reality."
Mayor Sly James said Tuesday that the museum's leadership would first have to show that it merited more private support.
"In order to get that support you have to have a product people can buy into , they have to be cultivated and engaged," he said.
The report also held city officials responsible for the museum's condition. Consultants recommended that the museum "rethink" the presence on the board of the two Third District City Council members, currently Jermaine Reed and Quinton Lucas. The museum is in the Third District
Museum Management Consultants reported that it heard from stakeholders about "about city council members having outsized influence on the board because of their ability to impact funds, and many people talked about how 'politics have impacted strategy and direction at AJM (American Jazz Museum).'"
The report added that several interviewees said the presence of members from the Third District "doubles down on the perception of 18th & Vine being seen as only a 3rd District asset; it reinforces the insularity.'”
Lucas, a possible candidate for mayor in 2019, said it was "reasonable" to move elected officials and city staff to non-voting, ex-officio membership on the board.
"It is fair to say I am not trained to run a museum," Lucas said. "Providing more authority for (museum) staff and board without intrusion from political actors will help a rejuvenated board and staff chart a path for the future."
Reed, an announced mayoral candidate, said in a statement he was open to rethinking the council members' role on the board but did not feel "in the way."
"When I realized the extent of the need to retool AJM, it was my leadership that brought the issue to the forefront and delivered to the resources needed to stay afloat, as well as brought about (the study) to clearly articulate how best to rebuild the museum's operations."