Black museum gets Heritage Fund grant


The Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center (MAAM) was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the state’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund that was created by the Minnesota Legislature and approved by Minnesota voters in November 2008.

“We received an appropriation to support new arts and cultural events, programs and opportunities within the Black community in Minnesota,” says Minnesota Humanities Center Vice President Matthew Brandt of the fund. He adds that the Legacy Amendment revenue “is not simply funding for the traditional arts and cultural funding. The state legislature was really interested in promoting new work and meaningful work.”

“We made an application and had a couple of interviews,” explains Roxanne Givens, one of the museum founders, who was informed by the Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) and the Humanities Center July 28 that the MAAM had received the grant. A formal ceremony was held at the museum site August 17.

Givens believes the grant is “a significant statement…that it is not just business as usual” in supporting the new museum. “They recognize the value and the work that the Minnesota African American Museum will be engaged in and how it is going to help all cultures and ethnicities in the state of Minnesota.”

On the progress of the museum, which will be located in an historic mansion near downtown Minneapolis that is currently undergoing renovation, Givens says,
“It is going great,” adding that the anticipated opening date of summer 2011 still is intact. “We want to start a grassroots [fundraising] campaign this fall.”

Supporting the state’s first Black museum “is significant,” says Brandt, because it is not something traditional. “It is a very unique cultural moment for the Twin Cities.”

The arts fund is generated through state sales tax revenue. “This is the first grant from the arts fund,” Brandt points out, adding that the fund actually didn’t became available until last fall when the state had enough “real money” to put into it.

CBM Executive Director Lester Collins points out that these funds come from Minnesota taxpayers. The Humanities Center is working with the CBM in reviewing Black-specific arts and culture proposals.

The MAAM “is crucial for the entire state of Minnesota,” notes Collins, adding that their proposal was “one of our core funding requests.” The CBM is looking at other proposals as well, “including the African [immigrant] community,” says, Collins, “because they are of equal importance.”

“One of the things the [CBM] committee is really focused on is narratives,” explains Brandt. “Who are those community leaders that made strong contributions that the general population, or even aspects of the African American community, might not know about?”

“I think it’s absolutely crucial to the council’s statute to recognize the contributions of people of African descent to Minnesota,” Collins stresses. His organization will help the new museum in other areas as well, such as donating archival materials.

“It is a privilege and a pleasure to be involved and be able to support it,” says Collins. “We are going to continue to encourage organizations and people [to do the same].”

“It is exciting to be a part of something at the beginning,” Brandt says of the state’s first Black museum. “It is satisfying and extremely humbling to be a part of this.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-record