New leaders, community optimistic about American Jazz Museum’s positive direction

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The new leaders of the American Jazz Museum are trying to turn the crucial but troubled attraction around.

On Tuesday night, at a meet and greet, they pushed for goodwill with city leaders and the public at large, saying the future of the museum is bright.

That's good news for people like Geraldine Simmons.

"It tells us about the history of Kansas City, the richness we have in music," she said.

She and her friend Melba, both retired school teachers, have taken many field trips to the American Jazz Museum with their students over the years.

"Some children don`t even get to get out of their neighborhood," Simmons said.

They said they like the direction the museum has been going in recently.

"We see a lot of young people, young faces, and that`s a good thing because the older ones are the foundation," Simmons said.

You might remember, the museum ran into big financial trouble, which an audit found was mostly self-inflicted.

The problems were highlighted in 2017 when ambitious changes to the yearly jazz fest ended up losing the museum money. City Hall had to step in just to pay some performers.

Over the next year or so, City Hall bailed out the museum using about $1.6 million of taxpayer money.

But that bailout came with conditions. First and foremost -- new leadership.

This past spring, Ralp Caro was named as the American Jazz Museum's interim executive director. He's been tasked with, in his words, "trying to make some order out of the chaos."

The museum's board members have been on the job for less than a year. Fixing the organization's finances has been top priority.

"Our end game is to obtain self-sufficiency and not having to rely on the city for so much input, cash outlay into our budget," Caro said.

Caro, who has also applied for the job permanently, said the museum is now in the black, they're fully staffed and attendance is up.

"We are coming off a tremendous 2018. We were profitable for the first time in three years, and the trend right now, I think we are probably about $70,000-75,000 to the good, well into the current budget," Caro said.

He said the museum's leadership promised the community a new era of integrity, transparency and sustainability -- and he believes they're delivering.

"We are the anchor for all that you see and all that could be here on 18th and Vine," he said.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who attended the meet and greet, spoke about the progress that's been made.

"We have refreshed the board of the Jazz Museum, and we will continue to refresh this museum," Lucas said. "We're building an opportunity for another generation, for more generations to learn more about our great music legacy."

Councilman Brandon Ellington, who represents the 3rd District at large, said he's like to see even more tourism at the museum, and one way to do that is diversify the acts and exhibits.

"We want to hear people in Chicago, Dallas and California saying they want to come to Missouri, particularly Kansas City, to see the museum," he said.

For Geraldine and Melba, they're optimistic about what's to come at the museum. But they said it takes the support of the community to keep the momentum going.

"These are artifacts. We keep the artifacts alive."

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