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Black Museums Fight for Funding

Association President Scolds Those Offering 'Negro Money'

9/3/2014, 3 p.m.
Significant funding has continued to elude black museums and officials throughout the industry said the search for funding reveals an ...
The Anacostia Community Museum falls under the purview of the Smithsonian Institute, but funding opportunities still must be acted upon swiftly, said Tykia Warden, development director at the Southeast D.C. museum. Bernadette Dare

Prior to a house fire five years ago that destroyed much of her heralded assemblage of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, which included pieces by Edward Mitchell Bannister, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, Peggy Cooper Cafritz reportedly owned one of the largest private collections of African and African-American art in the world.

Today, the Northwest D.C. arts patron said she's concerned about the future of black museums and she hopes that public and private donors will step up to the plate.

"Hopefully, Congress, the Senate and the administration would see what the needs are for our African-American museums and do something about it," said Cafritz, 67. "I think art funding has been cut all across the board and obviously it affects black museums more than others."

Cafritz said it's more important than ever for her and other private donors to ramp up their offerings, even though she cautioned that the pockets of African-American benefactors aren't as deep as other groups.

Significant funding has continued to elude black museums and officials throughout the industry said the search for funding reveals an age-old problem.

"We've been screaming very loud for 20 years that the major funding sources are ignoring us or giving us what we call, 'Negro money,'" said Sam Black, president of the Association of African American Museums in Northeast Washington. "Negro money means if we ask for $4 million, we get $15,000, which really is money to go away, money that can't help us reach our projected goals."

A report published in June by the Nonprofit Quarterly, a national journal covering the management and governance of nonprofits, revealed that African-American museums in the U.S. are faring at levels far below those that are considered white, or mainstream.

"There are issues on a couple of fronts," said Kimberly Camp, the former president and CEO of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Formerly located in Merion, Pennsylvania, the foundation includes the world's largest collection and archives of the great French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, post-impressionist Paul Cezanne and others. The collection has been valued at more than $70 billion.

"There's been a resurgence of racism and bigotry in this country and there's been a pushback against black institutions since Barack Obama became president in 2008," said Camp, 57, who is now president of Gallery Marie, an art gallery in Collingswood, New Jersey, that features the work of artists from around the world, including Camp's paintings and dolls.

"Another issue is that there really needs to be better board training at African-American museums," said Camp, who also served as president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

"People need to understand the role of the board and, really, there are board members at some museums who don't like the institution and they've undermined the efforts to get funding."

Redell Hearn, a professor of Museum Studies at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said she's well aware that nearly every institution of art and culture – whether black, white or other – faces significant challenges when seeking financial support.