Brooklyn's Weeksville Heritage Center Raises Funds to Preserve Black History
|thenorthstar||May 11, 2019|
The Weeksville Heritage Center, one of Brooklyn’s historic cultural institutions, is hoping that community donors will save it from closing this summer. The center hopes to raise $200,000 to remain open until September.
The historic house museum in Crown Heights aims to preserve the history and legacy of one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America, the organization’s President and Executive Director Rob Fields told The North Star. Fields said the center is in danger of closing as soon as July if the fundraiser does not succeed.
“Rising operating costs and the challenging fundraising environment for Black cultural institutions have put all the work we do in jeopardy,” Fields said in an email cited by Brownstoner. “We might have to shut our doors in July. It’s that serious.” Weeksville was established by free Black professionals in 1838, 11 years after New York abolished slavery. In an interview with The North Star, Fields spoke of the importance of the Weeksville Heritage Center as a testament to the founding of Weeksville, and as a reminder to the city’s new residents of the neighborhood’s history.
A group of activists and historians discovered the community’s history and several homes dating back to its founding and were able to preserve the homes in the 1960s. The site was declared a New York City landmark and the Weeksville Heritage Center opened its doors in 1968, Fields said.
The complex is home to the 19th century Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, which were inhabited by people of color from their construction until the museum acquired them. The homes are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2014, the center opened a new museum building designed by Caples Jefferson Architects.
On May 6, a campaign to save the Heritage Center was officially launched on Crowdrise. The campaign has raised nearly half of the initial funds needed, and more than 2,500 people have donated a little over $150,000.
Fields said he was “heartened by the response of the community,” and he hoped they would continue to support the crowdfunding campaign. The $200,000 will go toward keeping the center open through September and will allow the organization to plan and reorganize the way it operates and funds itself. Fields noted that more than $200,000 is needed.
“Our goal is to come out of this planning with a clear path to sustainability and to ensure that we never find ourselves in this financially vulnerable position again,” the organization’s campaign page stated.
Fields said that funds will focus on maintaining the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, which represent the “heart of Weeksville.” But he also emphasized the need to improve the way the center is funded and run. Fields said that prior to the fundraiser, the organization needed to spread awareness. He said he has heard from long-time New York residents that they were unaware that the Weeksville Heritage Center even existed.
The Weeksville Heritage Center has faced financial hardships in recent years. In 2013, as it prepared to open its new museum building, the center was forced to lay off half of its 13 staff members and move some of their remaining staff to part-time work, The New York Times reported.
The center’s annual budget, which had reached $1.6 million, was also slashed to about $1 million. Fields said he hopes to raise enough funds to hit an annual budget of $1.5 million to run the center successfully.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.