The Kansas African American Museum has achieved much in its current location, the historic former Calvary Baptist Church on North Water Street. The building sits in what once was the heart of Wichita’s black community — four blocks between Main and Waco where many early African American residents owned businesses, attended church and made their homes. Slated for demolition when Calvary moved, it instead became TKAAM in 1997 thanks to the efforts of Doris Kerr Larkins and others.
However, museum leaders realized years ago that the building suffers from limited visibility, accessibility, parking and other problems. Its nearest neighbor is the Sedgwick County Jail.
Now, the museum is edging closer to realizing a new home: the former Sunflower Bank building at 201 N. Main St. While still engaged in a $6 million capital fundraising campaign, the museum hopes to begin renovating the building later this year or early in 2024.
The new location will provide 22,000 square feet of space — double the current amount — allowing the museum to expand educational and cultural programming, serve more visitors in person and online and better protect the museum’s collection of art, photographs and other items. Plans include:
First floor: The main exhibition gallery and Trailblazer Hall of Fame, connected by digital technology to an innovation laboratory on the third floor.
Mezzanine: A smaller exhibition gallery and three exhibit salons, also connected to the innovation laboratory.
Third floor: Innovation laboratory, cultural center and administrative offices.
Basement: Heat- and moisture-controlled environmental vault for protection of the museum’s collection, plus curative and preparation workspace.
The Sunflower Bank building was designed some 50 years ago by the firm of Shaeffer, Johnson, Cox and Fry, which contributed consulting services related to the museum’s acquisition of the structure. Carmen Moravec, an architect with that firm, is a member of the museum’s board of directors.
Over the years, some thought had been given to moving the museum to Kansas City or Topeka. The museum board felt it important to keep it in downtown Wichita, where it will continue to tell the story of the African American experience in Kansas for many years to come.
Ted D. Ayres is chair of the development committee of The Kansas African American Museum. He can be reached at email@example.com.