Kansas City Council member Jermaine Reed introduced a proposal on Thursday to turn oversight of the American Jazz Museum over to the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, including assets managed by American Jazz Museum, Inc., such as the Blue Room and the Gem Theater.
Council members Quinton Lucas and Scott Wagner co-sponsored the ordinance. It now goes to the Council’s finance and governance committee.
The American Jazz Museum faces an estimated $1 million in debt due to festival losses and overspending. The proposed ordinance also calls for a boost in city funding of $225,000 to cover museum operations before the management contract ends on April 30, 2018. And a task force will be established to create a strategic business plan.
“It is clear business as usual will not suffice," Reed said in a statement. “Given the fact that there is new momentum and forward motion at 18th and Vine ... the city has an opportunity to evaluate and implement meaningful changes for the management of these assets.”
The board of the parks department already manages other city-owned assets, such as the Kansas City Museum and the Kansas City Zoo.
"We're not a funding agency, so that would create some cause for pause if we talk about the funding aspect of it," said Mark McHenry, director of the parks department. "Our funds that we have, and they're precious few, [are] to maintain the park and boulevard system. That's our number-one priority."
But McHenry says the parks department is well-positioned, with a track record of working with arts and cultural institutions. The department also has well-established ties in the 18th and Vine district, with facilities such as the Gregg/Klice Community Center and the Black Archives of Mid-America.
"It's a great asset in our community," McHenry says of the jazz museum, "and so if there's some way we can assist or be part of the dialogue. As an organization and a department, we're looking at things that improve the well-being of the city."
This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. to include Reed's statement.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.