Columnists Opinion

Moving museum collection is required to save it

Having read the May 2 “The Hutchinson Report: Fighting for the Mayme Clayton Museum,” our respect for Earl Ofari Hutchinson remains steadfast. However, as members of the board of directors for the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum since 2014, we have knowledge of the failings of museum leadership.

Hutchinson blames the museum collection’s move on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. However, the museum’s Board of Directors has controlled the building since 2008 at a cost of $1 per year.

The lease agreement did not provide a stable, steady and continuous source of income for the museum. Fund-raising matters were left to the Board of Directors. Upgrading the present site was never seriously considered in the strategic planning of museum leadership until the eviction notices. 

Over the years, the building degenerated until it posed physical danger to the collection, workers and visitors, lacking air-conditioning, temperature control, proper plumbing and major roofing problems. The museum board also made promises to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas regarding the collection’s future.

The board failed to deliver on those promises. The supervisor’s help was extensive, including payment for an expert’s examination of the museum and its potential for becoming a national center.  However, the museum board, for internal reasons, was unable to create strategies for a realistic and coherent response to the study. 

Also, years ago, when the museum had a paid director, the supervisor spoke with him about upgrading the building by creating a combined constituent center and library-museum.

Our knowledge and experience can only offer praise for Ridley-Thomas’ active participation to provide a desirable site for the collection at the rental rate of $1 per year — adequately housing the West Coast’s largest collection of African-American memorabilia and his working with the board to find alternative sites.

He also met with board members to discuss needs for maintaining the collection, moving to a new site and the costs and sources to fund these needs. 

He provided additional time for the board to complete promised plans and actions made over several years. The supervisor graciously extended time periods so that promises could be fulfilled and worked with board members to provide additional time for relocation after the county real estate office determined the building was a safety hazard.

He also collaborated with board members and Cal State Dominguez Hills’ administrators to move, store and maintain the collection at a permanent site on the campus. 

This move was initiated and processed by museum board members and the supervisor was willing to help finance the operation. 

The supervisor’s office not only took an interest in preserving the collection but also in efforts to find the best possible site for its evolvement into a first-class operation.

Hutchinson’s words of praise represent the “ideal” perspective of the museum, not the reality.

When was the last time period that the site was opened on a regular basis?

Other questions related to the museum site operations are: who allowed the building’s handyman to reside in the building; what happened to funds gained from specific movie rentals and jazz concerts; who belittled and denied use of the site for specific community events because of dislike for the organizers; who proposed that the collection be returned to its original storage in the garage; and who fought attempts to expand the Board of Directors — dismissing individuals of prominence and experience who attended board recruitment meetings?

We are two of the three members who lobbied for the move to Cal State Dominguez Hills. The campus has the footage, storage environment, exhibit space and potential for a permanent facility, to enable the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum to become and to do all that Hutchinson suggests that it was, in fact, doing. 

More specifically, Cal State Dominguez Hills has the security necessary to safeguard the collection. The current site lacks basic security systems, procedures and protocol to protect the collection from theft, flooding or fire.

Cal State Dominguez Hills facilities have climate change settings required for the proper upkeep of collection items; its location is demographically desired, with significant African-American residents in Carson compared to Culver City.

Scholars can use existing modern research and computer-based analytical systems, the campus president is an African American with an interest in preserving and promoting the richness of African-American culture and history and Cal State Dominguez Hills serves as the archival center for the entire California State University system.

There was never a plan nor an attempt to destroy “another black institution. Hutchinson’s column was  published while Cal State Dominguez Hills and the museum board of directors were negotiating to move it to the campus.

Two members of the board are fighting to control the collection. These board members proposed renting an air-conditioned house to store the collection, indicating a greater desire to “control” rather than to “save” it.

Two board members have financially benefited from the museum operation?

We believe that facts should be known before accusations are made. We have firsthand knowledge of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ efforts to preserve and to enhance the collection. And we wish to thank him for participation in preserving and promoting the collection as a national treasure.

King E. Carter and Lindsay E. Hughes are members of the board of directors for the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum.