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June 6, 2018; Chicago Magazine

When you are struggling to get to stable financial ground, waves of board and staff departures may not reassure potential donors, but this is the situation in which one Chicago museum finds itself.

In the last few months, the DuSable Museum of African American History has lost eight board members, including Chance the Rapper, his father Ken Bennett, and artist Theaster Gates, as well as its CFO, Veronica Milton. What is going on? That pattern of loss can’t help but raise eyebrows. Additionally, Leslie Guy, the former chief curator, claims in a lawsuit that she was fired for going to the board with concerns about management; her replacement then left a few months later.

The museum’s president, Perri Irmer, who has been at the helm since 2015, says that rather than being about any kind of mismanagement, “It’s about a shortage of funding overall. That’s been a historical problem, starting many years before my tenure. And although we’re making some progress, fundraising is always a challenge for us and for many independent nonprofit organizations.” And, indeed, the give-or-get requirements for board members have just been raised from $2500 to $10,000.

Irmer, reports Chicago magazine, has hired P2 Consulting, headed by Hanah Jubeh, who spent the past year as chief fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy, to do a restructuring plan. That plan has resulted in the termination of two development positions and brought some progress on the grant-getting side, including a $150,000 grant from Google to incorporate technology into future exhibits; a $442,000 grant (over three years) from the Ford and Walton foundations that will help fund fellowships for minority arts executives; and United Airlines’ support for an exhibit featuring Anne Frank and Emmett Till.

But these project-specific grants may not be covering the basics, as one might surmise from the fact that another recent project specific grant from the McCormick Foundation was converted to fund general operations.—Ruth McCambridge