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Fort Wayne's African/African-American Museum may face temporary closure

Friday, November 9, 2012 - 12:01 am

The board of the African/African-American Historical Museum plans to temporarily close the museum for three months of renovation and reorganization, according to the museum's executive director.

Hanna Stith, who along with her late husband, Harold, founded the museum 12 years ago, said that the museum has only about 2,000 visitors a year and isn't making enough money through admissions and memberships to support itself. She said the museum's board of directors considered but tabled a motion to close the museum from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31.

Pompia Durril, chairman of the board of directors, said “the board has been in deliberations” about how to improve the prospects of the museum, but they have not announced any plans. He added that he thinks it's “quite inappropriate” for Stith to have called attention to possible plans by the board prematurely. He did not discuss any of the plans under discussion, and he said a date, time and place for the next board meeting has not been set.

Stith, 84, who also is the museum's curator, said that some board members would like her to retire, and she suggested that she might retire next June. However, she said she wants to remain with the museum, 436 E. Douglas Ave., long enough to help guide some needed fundraising.

Stith said that differing views of how to raise money for the museum is a key disagreement between her and part of the board. She said she favors a stronger emphasis on fundraising – especially from foundations – as critical to sustaining the museum. A part of the board, on the other hands, would use the temporary closure of the museum as an opportunity to create new exhibits and formulate new programs to make it a more popular attraction.

According to 2011 tax documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the museum brought in $60,384 that year, but had expenses of $69,528, for a loss of more than $9,000. The museum reported that Stith's salary that year was $20,051.