American Jazz Museum facing uncertain future after scathing report

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A report critical of leadership at the American Jazz Museum could lead to the tourist attraction possibly closing its doors for up to a year.

The report was done by San Francisco-based firm Museum Management Consulting and released this week.

In the report, the consulting firm said the American Jazz Museum was in need of a “complete rebirth” to address a number of issues.

In particular, the report was critical of leadership at the museum.

“The Museum’s staff leadership has been responsible for numerous missteps, questionable decisions, and a lack of transparency,” the report read.

The museum faced criticism after last year’s Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival, which involved operating losses and checks for musicians bouncing. 

However, the report said financial issues with the museum were around before last year.

“The Museum’s financial health started to decline in FY17, prior to the Jazz Festival,” it read. “AJM’s overspending and Jazz Festival losses, combined with changes in leadership at the Board and staff levels, insufficient financial accounting systems, and insufficient financial expertise on the part of the Executive Director, led to a major financial crisis at the Museum.”

The report recommended that the museum reorganize under new leadership.

“AJM today is in need of complete rethinking, akin to starting a new museum,” it read.

The report also detailed:

  • Low morale for an understaffed museum team
  • “Stale” exhibit offerings featuring dated technology 
  • A lack of a clearly defined vision and identity

As a way to address the issues, the report said the city should consider closing the museum for up to a year.

On Tuesday, city councilman Jermaine Reed embraced the report and said it could lead to improvements at the museum.

“This is a good opportunity for us to move in the right direction as we move forward,” he told 41 Action News. “I believe this is an authentic piece of Kansas City and it’s up to us to make sure that we’re preserving this.”

Reed said revitalization efforts of the 18th & Vine area have totaled around $100 million over the last 20 years.

The total includes Reed’s proposal that passed in April of 2016 and called for almost $30 million in revitalization efforts.

On Tuesday, Reed said the museum could address its needs without having to close its doors.

“I think that’s a nuclear option in terms of where we stand but I think you can walk and chew gum at the same time,” he explained. “Change does not happen overnight. We want to make sure we’re doing this in the direction that allows us to get to the change that we certainly want.”

The museum’s executive director, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, told 41 Action News that closing the whole museum could end up hurting music education and the musicians who depend on the Blue Room.

“Closing that exhibit would take that away from them,” she explained. “I don’t want to do that. I want to continue to open that up.”

Crime also continues to be an issue for the 18th & Vine area.

A map of the 18th & Vine area on CrimeReports.com showed a dozen crimes, many of them thefts, reported over the last two weeks.

Kositany-Buckner said the perception of the area is an ongoing issue.

“That’s a perception that was here even before the museum was here,” she explained. “I think that is something we need to work on as a city.”

Reed pointed to the new Urban Youth Academy and passage of his 2016 revitalization bill as signs that 18th & Vine is moving in the right direction.

Following this week’s report, Reed said City Council will examine the museum’s needs and possible changes.

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