Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Old Cowtown Museum struggling, will stay closed

April 2, 2007


— A year after Old Cowtown Museum nearly closed for good because of debt and lack of visitors, budget problems are forcing the beleaguered attraction to delay its opening for the tourist season.

The Old West history museum was scheduled to open for the season this weekend, but its board decided to delay the opening until mid-June because the attraction is $50,000 over budget just three months into the year.

Old Cowtown Museum also can't account for up to 16 percent of its artifacts. And it has closed the kitchen in its Chuckwagon Cafe, because it can't afford the $10,000 to $20,000 needed to bring it up to restaurant standards.

Cowtown has been struggling to draw visitors and maintain buildings, and a consultant's study in March 2006 recommended either selling the museum or spending $5 million to $16 million to preserve it. Board members eventually voted to keep the attraction open but to slash its budget, most of which comes from Sedgwick County and Wichita taxpayers.

"The hardest thing as president is getting across to everyone it is a weird year and it is not going to be normal," said Jennifer Lee, Cowtown's board president.

Bob Garrett, Cowtown's interim director, said the museum can address all of its problems.

"For everything we are going through, we are still good, we are getting better," Garrett said. "I see the potential. I'm working with it every day."

But City Council member Sharon Fearey, who is a nonvoting board member, said tension still exists between the board and city and county governments because the board does not want to accept oversight from the city and county. After the museum fired its director last year, the city sent John D'Angelo, its director of arts and cultural services, to take charge of the museum's budget and strategic planning.

"If I had to identify what the tension is - money would be the big issue," Fearey said. "I don't think the board is accepting the help the city and county, through John D'Angelo, want to give them."

As far as the 1,000 to 2,000 of the 13,000 artifacts in the museum's collections that aren't accounted for, part of the problem is that the various Cowtown curators have recorded collections differently. Some of those items could still be found.

Amy Loch, curator and interim volunteer coordinator at Cowtown, has been sorting through the collections since she was hired last year and has found that some items have been missing for decades, while others were never documented. Her team has found 150 objects that had been on the missing list for about 20 years.

And Garrett said the museum can address the restaurant issue by selling prepackaged snacks and simple foods such as grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.


formerlyKS 11 years, 2 months ago

Tourism in Wichita?

You've got to be kidding. The topic is at least appropriate--rednecks.

Wichita is the most but ugly city in Kansas, except maybe second to KCK.

ladykate 11 years, 2 months ago

As a former Cowtown employee, I'd like to put in my 2 cents, and bring up a few things that the general public may or may not be aware of:

1) Most employees and volunteers love Cowtown, and are very zealous about presenting an accurate and quality portrayal of 1870's life in Wichita. Unfortunatly, we were fighting against some of the upper administration's idea that the museum was some kind of amusement attraction, and not a place dedicated to the preservation of living history. We were also battling the budget shortage. We were never sure where the money went, but as a domestic, I never knew if there would be supplies for me to do my food and garden demonstrations because of budget shortages. I donated a lot of food supplies and costume materials myself, just to put across a quality product.

2) Most of the visitors (besides school groups) to Cowtown were not from Wichita. In fact, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting people from all over the world (England, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, just to name a few), and visiting with them. In this way, I was happy to put across a little Kansas hospitality.

It makes me sad that people can't seem to work together on this. I loved my time working at Cowtown, and I miss the people and the things I got to do. I know if the board and city people had thought of coming to talk to the historical interpreters (both paid and volunteer) we would have been able to tell them a thing or two about where the museum should be headed. We certainly got an earful from the visitors themselves.

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