Kansas City bails out American Jazz Museum, plans study on new direction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Council took steps Thursday to make sure the American Jazz Museum, Blue Room and other city-owned iconic venues at 18th and Vine wouldn’t close their doors. But the $225,000 lifeline comes with a catch: The city is looking at big changes going forward.

The smooth sounds of Latin jazz bellowed from Blue Room Thursday night, as sausage vendor Jimmy Mac stood right outside.

“A lot of guys try to get me to go downtown to first Fridays and a lot more money downtown. But I’d kind of like to see this place grow and I’d kind of like to grow with it," he said of the Jazz District.

But lately the American Jazz Museum, which manages the Blue Room, Gem Theater, and the Horace Peterson III 18th and Vine Visitor Center, has struggled. The debt and layoffs prompted City Councilman Jermaine Reed to send a memo last week to the American Jazz Museum saying he thought it was time for a change in direction. Reed says he owed it not just to taxpayers to take action, but all the Kansas City musicians immortalized in the museum.

“This is where we believe jazz started and we want to be able to preserve that rich history of jazz here in Kansas City for generations to come," Reed said.

Kansas City Council voted to have the Parks Department conduct an organizational assessment of the American Jazz Museum over the next six months looking at everything from the vision and purpose, to finances and accountability.

“The purpose of the organizational assessment would allow us to determine what are the larger problems in the museum but also what are the solutions?" said Reed.

Reed thinks the ultimate answer will be Parks Department control and coaching for current leaders by people with more museum experience.

Vendor Jimmy Mac says the city has proved they are committed to making financial investments in the Jazz District. He just hopes whoever ultimately ends up running the museum, Gem Theater and others is emotionally invested as well.

“If you got somebody who is invested in it besides money, you got somebody who is going to be true to what it is," Mac said.

American Jazz Museum Director Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner said in a response to Reed's memo the museum will “continue to make the difficult and necessary changes - involving artists and musicians, museum professionals, historians, curators and others - to reinvent ourselves and become what in our heart of hearts we know we can be.”