Museum would feature Gordon Parks collection

Tue January 18, 2005 - National Edition
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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Wichita officials are planning a fund-raising effort for a new Kansas African-American museum now that the city has bought a riverfront site.

The $19.5 million museum could be named for photographer Gordon Parks, a Fort Scott native, and would feature a collection of his works.

The city bought the downtown site from Westar for $1.5 million.

"That’s beautiful news," said Parks, 92, in a telephone interview from his apartment in New York City. "I’m very happy that they got the land, especially on the river."

Parks has donated 29 photographs, valued at $1 million, which are in storage because the museum’s current building is unsafe for precious artifacts.

Whether Parks donates additional pieces depends on the city providing land for the museum and museum officials raising funds for an adequate facility, he said.

Mayor Carlos Mayans said a majority of the City Council appears to favor a proposal for a 99-year lease of the land to museum officials.

The city would give the museum five years to raise funds and begin construction.

"We’ve put everything on hold until we get a lease," museum director Eric Key said. "Nobody’s really ready to talk to us until we show that we’ve got something tangible. Once we’ve got the land, we can market to potential donors."

Key has discussed raising $35 million, which would include operational costs and an endowment fund.

Museum supporters are hopeful that Parks might donate additional items from his collection and believe a museum featuring his works would be an important attraction.

"It can really be an exciting project," Mayans said, "very complementary for the entire museum district, especially if we can get the Gordon Parks collection."