CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The International African American Museum (IAAM) has received overwhelming support from some of the country’s most prominent and esteemed foundations, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Speedwell Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Investments from these five national and international foundations, totaling $1 million, resoundingly affirm the museum’s vital mission and significance.
Joseph P. Riley, Jr., former Charleston mayor and IAAM board member, first embarked on his journey to bring the museum to life nearly two decades ago. “To arrive at this point, and to announce the generous investments of some of our nation’s most respected foundations speaks volumes about the importance of this institution,” Riley said. “I am honored to count these philanthropic organizations among our supporters.”
The Mellon Foundation’s $150,000 grant will enable the museum to hire its chief curator in 2018, a full year earlier than originally planned. By bringing this individual onto the team in 2018, the IAAM will strengthen its content development process and yield robust, accurate and well-rounded content for the IAAM.
Eugene Tobin, senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation, said that “There is moral and intellectual imperative to lay bare and explain the full history of slavery and its long shadow of systemic racism, which exists to this day. Selecting a chief curator with the scholarly creativity and imagination to present this difficult history and address these deeply embedded continuing challenges is work worthy of an ambitious cultural institution.”
A $250,000 investment from the Ford Foundation will support the creation of a strategic business plan and fund the hiring of a Director of Education and Engagement in 2018, allowing the IAAM to bring on this member of the museum’s leadership team a year earlier than anticipated. The Ford Foundation’s funding of the IAAM’s Director of Education and Engagement in 2018 will jumpstart the museum’s efforts to craft outreach and educational plans and create materials to begin disseminating critical lessons about the African American experience and rich history.
Speaking at a recent event in support of the museum, Elizabeth Alexander, director of the Creativity and Free Expression program at the Ford Foundation, said that she had been thinking about the African-American proverbial translation of the biblical phrase, “‘Went down to the rocks to hide my face. The rocks cried out, no hiding place.’ I don’t think that the ground on which we walk stays silent forever. I think that actually the ground has to speak, and now there is a moment where people are realizing that this is a story that needs to be narrated, needs to be spoken.”
The IAAM is being designed to give voice to the sacred land of Gadsden’s Wharf on which it will sit. Nearly half of all enslaved Africans forced to North America entered the country in Charleston, the majority of whom disembarked at Gadsden’s Wharf. The museum itself will be lifted by sturdy pillars to honor the grounds, which will be covered in a series of gardens and artistic installations.
The museum’s unique approach, highlighting the lands to memorialize the site’s history and the Africans who disembarked here, was of particular interest to the Kresge Foundation, which donated $200,000 to support these efforts. The grounds of the former site of Gadsden’s Wharf, which will be free and open to the public, will serve as a monument to mark the arrival of hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans and the enduring influence of African Americans on our country’s history and culture.
The Speedwell Foundation, which, like the IAAM is national in scope with a strong local presence in Charleston, generously pledged $250,000. Committed to making the world more verdant through its support of parks and green spaces, and to promoting education, the Speedwell Foundation’s interests intersect with the museum. In addition to featuring the beautiful gardens on the museum’s grounds, the IAAM will prioritize educational initiatives to provide engaging experiences that encourage lifelong learning.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) provided support to the IAAM through a grant for $150,000 – a tribute to the SNF’s mission to support organizations that aim to achieve broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large. “The IAAM will be a center of learning and commemoration and will serve as a vital educational resource for students of all ages to understand this critical piece of our history. It is through full and transparent acknowledgement of the past that we move forward to build a better future,” said Andreas Dracopoulos, Co-President of the SNF. By creating interactive learning experiences, this museum will provide missing chapters of our nation’s history, uncovering the broad and often central role African Americans have played in building our state, country and world.
“This process – working one on one with these lauded foundations to uncover the ways that our core values and interests align – has been a privilege,” said Michael Boulware Moore, IAAM President and CEO. “Each of these organizations has found a unique and meaningful way to express their support, and we are so proud to be working with them to breathe life into this museum, which our nation needs now, more than ever.”