WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - While other Wichita museums struggle to survive, the Mid-America All-Indian Center has amassed enough savings to operate on those funds alone for 10 months.
The $90,000 reserve fund is one example of the strides the center has made from a troubled past of money problems and the disappearance four years ago of some artifacts.
Now, the center's board is refining the organization's purpose, expanding its programs and enhancing its cultural offerings. The board also plan to hire a third staff member to oversee programs.
But there's also an eagerness for the center to regain its iconic status as a tribal gathering place.
“Overall I'm happy and I'm pleased, but the steps we're taking right now are baby steps,” said Sonie Simon, a Native American Elders Council member who once served as the center's co-interim executive director.
Four years ago, the Mid-America All Indian Center was $135,000 in debt and had lost more than 270 pieces of Indian artwork and artifacts. In 2005, the Wichita City Council approved a $175,000 loan to the center's board to pay off the debt.
The center then began building its savings by cutting staff, programs and hours of operation. Revenue came from gift shop sales, membership fees and facility use rents.
“They're an organization that has gone through some difficult times, and I think they're on the upside of that process now,” said John D'Angelo, the city's arts and cultural services manager.
Nearly 17,800 people have visited the center during the past six months.
Its museum was closed from mid-January to late June, reopening after roughly $700,000 in renovations paid for by the city's Capital Improvement Program.
“The broader public, not just the native American community, now sees the asset,” D'Angelo said of the center.
Pat Cox, whose tribal heritage includes Shawnee, Delaware and Cherokee, was glad the regular lunches for American Indian elders still occur .
“That's the only time that I'm actually here, in town with a group of Indians,” Cox said. “I'm not a powwow person.”
Educational programs, such as classes in traditional beadwork, are pending, said board member Robert Marley.
“Everybody wants us to come out and dance, and all this,” Marley said of native people, “but there's more to us than that.”