Editorials

City Hall lets KC’s American Jazz Museum languish with no permanent director or board

The American Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine still lacks a permanent director and board of directors more than four months after a major shakeup in the facility’s oversight.

That’s unacceptable. New leadership is urgently needed.

Problems at the museum have been apparent for years. But they reached a climax this spring when overspending for a festival focused public attention on the troubled attraction.

A scathing outside examination of the museum’s practices added fuel to the fire. The report suggested the museum consider closing for a time to reexamine its mission and identity.

Another key recommendation: “Refresh the staff and board leadership of the museum.”

That task was half-accomplished when the executive director and several board members resigned in favor of interim appointments. But now, in mid-October, those interim appointments are still in place, depriving the museum of needed guidance for 2019 and beyond.

“The museum is just limping along,” one City Council member told us this week.

This is not a criticism of the current temporary leadership. By all accounts, interim director of operations Marissa Baum and her staff have done an admirable job of stabilizing the museum after the turmoil of the first six months of the year.

But the facility needs more than a caretaker board and interim staff. It needs experts to guide a discussion about how to fix the museum’s many problems — old exhibits, inadequate curation, a wobbly business model, poor attendance.

Additional support from private donors and philanthropists is also needed. That task is made harder when would-be supporters are forced to worry about the museum’s direction and future.

Taxpayers have poured additional millions into the building and operations in recent years, and there are new requests for even more help. The American Jazz Museum is an important Kansas City institution that deserves public support.

It also deserves permanent, qualified leadership.

The reasons behind Mayor Sly James’ failure to find permanent board replacements are unclear. “Our office is still working to secure the board,” a spokeswoman said this week. Some council members say James has walked away from the problem because of anger at some East Side activists.

That’s a mistake. The mayor should make the museum’s future a serious focus during his last months in office. That means finding qualified, committed board members by the end of this year.

The list should not include either of the current 3rd District councilmen — Jermaine Reed or Quinton Lucas. Both are candidates for mayor. We don’t doubt their intentions or their work on behalf of the museum, but political considerations should not be a part of the decision-making process for the board.

The museum should then pick a new permanent director within the first three months of 2019. That would allow some time to plan for spring and summer events and exhibits at the facility.

The status quo at the American Jazz Museum is unacceptable, just as it was in April and May. The museum is a key part of Kansas City. City Hall should act like it.

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