Kansas City has a storied history and a deep connection with jazz. But how the city showcases and capitalizes on the fabled music genre must undergo a major overhaul, a fact harshly outlined in a new report commissioned by the city.
The American Jazz Museum deserves this reboot, with close attention paid to every recommendation in the organizational assessment delivered this week by Museum Management Consultants.
The report stemmed from the crisis last year when rainy weather, an overly grandiose vision and a failure to plan well financially led to nearly half a million dollars in losses at the Kansas City Jazz and Heritage Festival. The city stepped in to save the day, fronting cash to pay the bills, including bounced checks to musicians.
The museum is a 20-year-old public-private partnership in the historic 18th & Vine area. But clearly, the relationship has become far too dependent on city coffers. The museum has never reached the acclaim it should hold for residents, much less as a national draw.
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The report repeatedly recommends a “refresh” of the staff and board. More specifically, it points out that Executive Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner has “insufficient financial expertise,” a fact that cannot be overlooked.
Similarly, the overly large board must be pared down.
The report floats the idea of closing the museum as it reorganizes. City Manager Troy Schulte’s suggestion of shifting to limited hours is preferable.
Permanent displays have not been updated since the museum opened — a damning indictment in an era in which top museums have become far more about the visitor’s experience.
Also, there are no proper processes, nor adequately trained staff, to manage the collections and guide stewardship of the historical artifacts.
Anyone who has visited the affiliated Blue Room has likely sat at the cocktail tables with valuable artifacts displayed under clear plastic tops that have exposed the displays to damaging sunlight for years.
Tight finances also have “decimated” the marketing budget, leading to lower attendance figures.
The report makes an interesting comparison to the nearby Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which draws about 10,000 more visitors a year. And that space does not struggle with the same perceptions as the jazz museum, which is seen as a black institution in the historically minority 3rd City Council District, with an influence that does not reach further.
The implication is that the jazz museum is not of significance to the larger Kansas City area, much less a national audience.
Such shallow and limiting ideas must change.
Jazz history is African American history is Kansas City history. It deserves to be treasured by all, through a properly functioning American Jazz Museum in the historic 18th & Vine district.