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Korean American National Museum in danger of drifting as secretary general resigns

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After more than a decade of failing to break ground, the Korea American National Museum project is now at risk of drifting further into uncertainty.

The project faced setbacks with the abrupt cancellation of the previous design, and now, the sole person in charge of the project has reportedly resigned.

Notices of package receipt are taped to the front door of the Korean American National Museum’s office on 6th Street in Koreatown. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

According to the Citizens’ Committee to Build the Korean American National Museum on April 4, Shinae Yoon, who served as the secretary general of the Korean American National Museum, resigned from her position on April 1. This committee organized a public hearing on March 21 to demand transparency from the current board of directors and suggest alternatives.

“Yoon was the only member of the Korean American National Museum board of directors who received an annual salary exceeding $95,000 and had direct involvement with the project,” said Christopher Lee, an architect associated with the support group. “With her departure, the project, already shrouded in mystery, may face further confusion.”

Yoon’s resignation effectively leaves the Korean American National Museum’s board without clear leadership for the project.

Online media outlet LAist also reported on April 4 about the growing frustration surrounding the stalled project. “None of the board members, including Jaemin Chang, chairman of the family-owned newspaper the Korea Times, were available for interviews,” LAist noted, referring to Yoon’s resignation and the closure of the museum’s website (kanmuseum.org). “It remains unclear how the new design or the removal of housing will impact the lease agreement with the city government.”

When the Korea Daily visited the Korean American National Museum’s offices on April 5, they found the doors firmly shut. Uncollected mail lay on the floor in front of the office, and a Federal Postal Service package pickup sign indicated the prolonged closure of the office.

Furthermore, the director of the Korean American National Museum seemed unaware of Yoon’s resignation. Director Byungchan Ahn, responsible for accounting, stated, “I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about it.”

Despite attempts to reach Yoon for comment, her phone remained turned off as of April 5.

Meanwhile, the citizens’ support group behind the Korean American National Museum is contemplating filing a legal complaint against the board, alleging malpractice. According to IRS data reported last year by the Korean American National Museum, the board comprises eight members, including Chang.

“We will hold a second public hearing at the end of April, and if the board members fail to attend again, we will take steps to file a legal complaint, including an investigation by the IRS,” said Lee. “It is unacceptable that after all these years, the project has not progressed, and the board seems unaware of its actions, despite spending over $970,000 in operating expenses over the past seven years, including Yoon’s salary.”

The Korean American National Museum’s board of directors faced criticism for suddenly unveiling a new design for a stand-alone building on March 19, ahead of a public hearing. The Korea Daily reached out to Euisung Yi, the architect of Morphosis, reported to have created the design, but has yet to receive a response.

BY YEOL JANG, HOONSIK WOO [jang.yeol@koreadaily.com]