Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kansas African American museum on hold

April 16, 2014

— Supporters of an effort to build a new Kansas African American Museum in downtown Wichita are vowing to keep working, even after the proposal was postponed and land designated as the museum’s location was returned to the city.

The plan to move the museum from a church erected in 1917 has been postponed for up to five years to allow the supporters to raise funds and expand its mission, said Mark McCormick, the museum’s executive director.

“Even though we call ourselves the Kansas African American Museum, for years we have been known as telling only the story of Wichita,” McCormick said. “We’re looking at making the museum more Kansas focused, incorporating the stories of people like Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks and others that grew up in Kansas in places other than Wichita.”

While African Americans represented only 6.4 percent of the Kansas population in 2013, according to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the population of Wichita is 11.5 percent black.

The current museum is housed in the Calvary Baptist Church, which is one of the few surviving buildings in Wichita’s black business district, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1inqbKE ).

The city leased 1.2 acres on riverfront property to the African American Museum for $1 a year in 2005, with the understanding that the new museum would be built by 2011.

“We cannot be land hoarders,” said Lee Williams, chairman of the museum board of directors, “particularly if an opportunity comes up for someone else to build there.”

After the city leased the museum the land, the nation’s economy collapsed and then-director Eric Key resigned amid questions about his travel budget and fundraising. The museum board originally proposed a new $29.5 million museum but that was later lowered to between $8 million and $12 million.

The current museum is within feet of the Sedgwick County jail, making it an undesirable location for a museum. The building also lacks climate controls to protect its exhibits and has few wheelchair-accessible entry points.

The museum made a profit of between $19,000 and $20,000 last year — the first profit in five years, McCormick said. He hopes to continue that trend and improve the museum’s resources.

“We’re not giving up,” McCormick said.

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