Upheaval at DuSable Museum
May 26th, 2018
While DuSable Museum of African American History struggles to keep its financial footing, management is in an upheaval.
Seven board members have resigned, including Chance the Rapper, according to the Sun-Times. And I hear the museum’s chief operating officer is retiring.
A source close to the board told me the transition isn’t all that bleak as new, prominent board members are already in the pipeline to be approved.
Museum CEO Perri Irmer issued a statement Saturday, saying, “We are grateful to all of our DuSable trustees, those remaining on the board and those who are departing.” She also said the museum has “been assured of their continued support of the mission of DuSable Museum. That mission–to educate all people through African American history, art and culture–is more important than ever before.”
Irmer also acknowledges in the statement that fund-raising remains an issue for the museum, which has about a $4 million operating budget and last year saw a deficit of some $300,000.
“Most nonprofits, especially arts and culture organizations, are struggling to raise funds and we are no different,” she said.
Thanks to grants, DuSable continues to showcase new exhibits and programming. A good example is the current exhibit featuring the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard, the only all-African-American regiment in the U.S. Army called into service for World War I. The McCormick Foundation and French embassy helped fund that.
Irmer remains a force at the museum and has been known to butt heads with some board members.
Critics say she needs to make fundraising a priority.
But it’s not a CEO’s job alone to raise money. That’s why nonprofit organizations look for board members who can write checks and bring in donors.
DuSable seemed to be heading in that direction when Chance the Rapper signed on. He now acknowledges (in a Tweet) that his decision was personal. “It was an immense honor to serve on the board the past year and the ONLY reason Im leaving is i got too busy and couldnt make the meetings,” he wrote.
What’s most unfortunate is that DuSable is suffering financially at a time when there’s a resurgence of interest in the black experience in the United States.
Just look at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (known as the National Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, Ala.; and the International African American Museum in Charlotte, S.C., which is supposed to open next year. Those projects raised millions before moving forward with museums.
The DuSable is a treasure long in existence, so it’s harder to hook donors who want to be wowed by something new.
Irmer’s holding out hope the Obama Presidential Center in nearby Jackson Park will help attract more visitors to DuSable.
In the meantime, the museum’s board needs to find its own Ken Griffin–the billionaire philanthropist and art collector who donates to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Along with Chance the Rapper, other board members resigning are Chance’s father, Ken Bennett; Dr. Eric Whitaker, Wilbur Milhouse III, Kimberly McCullough-Starks and Michael Gibson and board Chairman Joyce Johnson-Miller.