Museum of World Treasures seeks more uniform operating agreement with city of Wichita

03/10/2013 12:00 AM

03/11/2013 6:37 AM

For the past decade, the Museum of World Treasures has been one of the new kids in Wichita’s portfolio of museums.

But 2013 marks a big year for the museum as officials negotiate a new lease with the city and perhaps get a better understanding of how the Old Town museum fits into Wichita’s historic legacy.

“We pay $65,000 a year to lease the building from the city of Wichita, plus all the maintenance,” said Mike Noller, president and CEO of the museum. “When I hear arguments from people … who say the city is giving you a discount for Old Town property, that’s true, and I appreciate that.

“But when you compare that to other museums in Wichita who get a $1-a-year lease …”

This year marks the end of the museum’s second five-year lease. The city owns the Farm and Art building at 835 E. First St., where the museum relocated in 2013. Museum officials are hoping to renegotiate the terms of the lease so they can be on equal footing with the rest of Wichita’s museums.

The museum houses an eclectic range of artifacts, from Kansas, U.S. and world history to natural history, ancient civilizations to pop culture. It was founded in 2001 by Jon Kardatzke and his wife, Lorna. The collections were originally housed in the Garvey Center downtown but moved to Old Town in 2003.

“We are going to ask the city if we could form a longer-term relationship,” Noller said. “We want an operating agreement like the city has with other museums. We just want to sit down and discuss what the options are.”

Cultural arts funding

Each year, the city has roughly $3 million to spend on local arts and cultural groups. Of that, more than $2.6 million goes to the five major museums with ties to the city: the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, the Wichita Art Museum, the Mid-America All-Indian Center, Botanica and Old Cowtown Museum.

In order to receive that level of funding, museums have to meet two of three criteria: the city owns the museum’s collection, the director is a city employee or the organization has city employees and the facility is owned by the city.

That leaves $421,000 to be distributed among 30 other groups, which includes the Museum of World Treasures. Last year, the museum received $15,000 in cultural arts funding.

“We’ve been raising money for a number of years,” Noller said. “And it is sometimes difficult for people to contribute to a project if they know we may have to vacate in a year. It makes it difficult to do long-term planning and fundraising.”

The Museum of World Treasures and the other five main museums are all in city-owned buildings. So is the Kansas Aviation Museum on South George Washington Boulevard. But each museum has a different contract with the city, said John D’Angelo, director of the city’s Arts and Culture Department

For instance, the Kansas Aviation Museum has a 50-year agreement with the city for $10 a year. The maintenance is the responsibility of the museum.

The Wichita Art Museum building is owned, funded and maintained by the city of Wichita.

Botanica is owned by the city, but Botanica’s board oversees the maintenance of its property.

The Mid-America All-Indian Center is owned by the city, but it is run through a partnership between the center’s board and the city. The building is leased by the board for $1 a year.

Cowtown is owned, operated and maintained by the city. Volunteers, such as the Wichita Wagonmasters, paint the buildings.

The Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum is city-owned. It is mostly maintained by the museum; however, the city maintains the heating and cooling system. The museum leases the building for $1 a year.

In 2014, the city is expected to re-examine all of its contracts with the city’s museums and re-evaluate how they are funded.

“Part of what we are trying to address in a review of these contracts is that we have all these different relationships,” D’Angelo said. “Is there some commonality? How do we address each of these in a way that is equitable to everybody?”

The city’s cultural arts funding formula was formulated in 2008. It expires in 2014. The new funding formula would be implemented, with City Council approval, in 2015.

The city may then be willing to renegotiate a contract with the Museum of World Treasures, D’Angelo said.

“We will be revisiting the whole thing,” D’Angelo said. “A group of us are working on the operating agreements and funding issues.”

According to Sharon Fearey, chairwoman of the Wichita Arts Council, the definition for future funding will change.

“What we are trying to get away from is that it would matter so much if you were in the same group as the art museum,” Fearey said. “Our goal is to make all organizations as good as they can be for the city.”

Museum’s options

The Museum of World Treasures has an annual operating budget of $480,000, of which nearly 60 percent is earned income, Noller said. The rest comes from donations, grants and the museum’s reserves.

It would be ideal if the museum didn’t have to dip into its reserves each year to continue operating, he said.

The museum has a few options, according to Allen Bell, the city’s director of economic development: extend its lease with the city for another year, move to another location or re-negotiate the contract.

Any change in the lease or the operating agreement would need to be approved by both the City Council and the museum’s board.

In 2007, the museum board considered briefly relocating to Olathe to be a centerpiece in a 100-acre development project. The deal fell through, and museum officials say they have no intention of leaving Wichita, Noller said.

“Our founder has no intention for this to be successful anywhere else but in Wichita,” he said.

Noller said museum officials are in the process of seeking accreditation and transforming the building from a collector’s gallery into a museum.

Having the Museum of World Treasures in Old Town is definitely an asset, said Charlie Claycomb, president of the Old Town Association.

“It brings another facet to Old Town,” he said. “We have shopping, retail and bars – and it brings some culture. It is busy during the day.

“It is one of my granddaughter’s favorite places to go. She is 10 and loves the gift shop.”

Last year, the museum attracted more than 40,000 visitors – the first time since 2008 it has reached that level. Since the recession began in 2008, attendance at nearly all the city’s museums has struggled.

To help attract visitors, the museum frequently rotates exhibits and creates new programs.

“Those things require significant amounts of funding,” Noller said. “If the funding isn’t there, we pull back on programs.

“We want the Museum of World Treasures to be part of the experience of Wichita.”

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