Government & Politics

KC mayor’s 9 nominees to American Jazz Museum board comes months after scathing study

Seven months after a consultant’s report slammed the 20-year-old American Jazz Museum for lack of a clear vision and identity, Kansas City Mayor Sly James announced nine nominees for a new board of directors.

The board would be tasked with helping to turn around the financially troubled museum in the 18th and Vine district.

In a press release this week, James called the slate of nominees a “dynamic group of experienced civic leaders” who are “ready to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work necessary to make sure AJM is a self-sustaining, fiscally sound organization with widespread community support.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor said he is hopeful that all nine nominees are appointed when the interim board of directors next meets on Nov. 20. The nominees are:

Eugene Agee, a business professional with 26 years at Sprint, where he managed $17 billion in spending on commercial, retail and technical space. He has served on the boards of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the 100 Black Men of Greater Kansas City.

Mitch Butler, a Grammy Award-winning musician who is an assistant professor of jazz at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music. He has served as director of jazz studies at California State University and Claflin University.

Dan Cranshaw, a lawyer and board member or volunteer for various organizations, including Cornerstones of Care, Don Bosco Centers, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Swope Health Services, Inc.

Mary Davidson, who has served as the U.S. Secretary of Education’s regional liaison for Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska. She has previously served as chair of the trustees of the Kansas City Museum Foundation and as interim chair and CEO of the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

Niki Lee Donowa, who has served on numerous boards of civic organizations and was involved in the first Jazz Walk of Fame medallion installation in the 18th and Vine district in 2014.

Sally Firestone, an advocate for persons with disabilities who has worked with the Saint Paul School of Theology, Kingswood Senior Living Community, the Folly Theater and the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. She is a quadriplegic survivor of the 1981 Hyatt skywalk collapse and is currently on the interim board of the American Jazz Museum.

Mark Sappington, a lawyer and a member of the Missouri Arts Council, the UMKC Friends of the Conservatory and the UMKC Cockefair Lecture Chair. He has served as outside counsel to not-for-profit faith-based hospitals and health care systems.

Stephenie K. Smith, executive director of the Linwood YMCA, which completed a $12 million capital campaign.

Mary Kemper Wolf, a documentary maker and consultant for nonprofits and institutions. She is chairwoman of the board of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

The report by San Francisco-based firm Museum Management Consultants was commissioned by the city to help the nonprofit museum, which was founded in 1997. The city provides about half of the museum’s funds.

In 2017, the museum suffered a $447,000 deficit from its first-ever jazz festival — losses the city covered. The festival turned into a major public relations black eye after reports that checks to musicians bounced and that the museum spent $18,000 on a chartered plane to bring a performer to town on time.

The jazz museum’s former director, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, and several board members left the organization this spring.

In May, about a month after the report was released, city council voted to take more control of the museum.

This latest announcement seems to follow a recommendation by the consultants to cut the museum’s board of directors, which had numbered 23.

The report said the board was bloated and ineffective at fundraising. Consultants recommended that the board “be pared down to a small, core group of passionate and impactful individuals (approximately 8-10 people), including civic leaders, museum professionals, and philanthropic leaders, who will fully commit to guiding the Museum through an in-depth planning process.”

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