The serious financial problems at the Kansas Aviation Museum call for decisive leadership by its board and strong support from City Hall and the community, because the museum is so important to safeguarding and celebrating Wichita’s legacy as Air Capital of the World.
Though board president and interim director Richard Moore told The Eagle the museum is “very strong, healthy” and “getting back on track,” it has cut staffing to one full-time employee and hours to weekends only. The possibilities of bankruptcy, closure and selling artifacts were discussed at recent board meetings, which included reports that the museum was losing $25,000 to $30,000 a month and had $150,000 in total cash available. There also was talk of joining with the volunteer effort that restored the B-29 Superfortress known as “Doc” as it eyes a long-term home for that plane, perhaps at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.
The stakes are even higher than the museum’s one-of-a-kind artifacts and aviation memorabilia, as the building itself is a cultural treasure – Wichita’s 1935 art-deco former airport terminal at 3350 George Washington Blvd.
The museum hopes the city will give it more time to make a payment of $183,000 due in February 2017 – money that funded heating, air conditioning and accessibility upgrades. The city also provides the museum $32,000 a year, but as of Monday had not been asked for any special help from its Arts and Culture Department.
In addition to a new executive director, the museum will need a realistic long-range plan and fundraising strategy. Like all nonprofits, the museum needs engaged board members of influence and means to serve its goals.
Even after the blows that the local aircraft manufacturing industry has taken in the past eight years, planemaking remains key to the local economy and identity. Current aviation employers can be part of ensuring the museum’s future, which should include educational programming and special events.
Lon Smith, a former director of the museum and now president of the Wichita Independent Business Association, told The Eagle editorial board that the arts and cultural institutions that aren’t primarily city- and county-funded are “incredibly important” to both the community’s economy and quality of life and “all on a starvation diet.”
He added: “None of them are supported as fully as they need to be. As a community, we really need to take stock and say, ‘What is important to us?’ And, by the way, that includes the Kansas Aviation Museum.”
If the museum falters further and perhaps even closes, community apathy will be partly to blame. Wichita and Wichitans shouldn’t let that happen.