Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Kansas African American Museum fires its new Executive Director

Reposted from the Wichita Eagle 
by: Christina Woods

The Kansas African American Museum has fired its new executive director, L'Oreal Evans-Birden, who was about two months into her position.

The board's decision to terminate Evans-Birden was unanimous, said its president, Gwynne Birzer, though she declined to give details. "It's unfortunate, but it's a personnel matter," Birzer said Tuesday when the museum announced the termination.

Evans-Birden, however, said her firing stemmed from comments she made in a public forum about the museum's leadership and other troubles after an Eagle article ran in February about a police report indicating possible missing items and cash.

She said she was given the option to resign, but refused, saying she made obligations to the community and with people to revive the museum. "They feel as though they worked in the interest of the institution," Evans-Birden said of the board's vote for termination. "But I'm really concerned about them working in the interest of the community."

Birzer declined to respond to those comments.

Evans-Birden, who moved her family from New Orleans to accept the position in late January, said people contacted her throughout the day to share their concern.

"News travels fast and many people have been contacting me expressing their frustration," she said. "They're very, very upset."

The board has contracted Lisa Dodson, who served as interim executive director prior to Evans-Birden's arrival, as a consultant. Birzer didn't have the details of Dodson's contract available Tuesday, but said Dodson's term as a consultant began when her interim position ended.

The firing surprised several community members, including Shirley Benton Kelley, who was among dozens of people who attended the museum's official welcome for Evans-Birden during February's Final Friday Gallery Crawl.

"She was all right," Benton Kelley said of Evans-Birden. "I like the vibe of the ideas she had."

Those ideas included collaborating with Storytime Village for a program that combines children's literacy and art, called Kid Smart. The program was to begin this Saturday.

Prisca Barnes, founder of Storytime Village, a children's literacy organization, said it was to be the organization's first collaboration with the museum and that the program could still happen.

Birzer said resumes for the open position are already coming in. The board could gather again before its regularly scheduled meeting in April to discuss next steps, she said.

Annie Work, who attended the reception for Evans-Birden and a panel discussion this month in honor of Women's History Month, said she wonders whether the board will hire someone local.

"I just don't know what they're doing down there," Work said.

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