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Black museums seeing benefits of grant program

September 29, 2006|Jacqueline Trescott | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — In two years, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh plans to move into a new facility to showcase its interdisciplinary approach to telling the story of African Americans.

Founded in 2002 as the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the museum changed its name this year to pay tribute to native son Wilson, whose dramas grew out of life in the city's black neighborhoods. The building campaign is going well; $27 million of the $36 million needed is in hand. But the money to develop programming and hire staff has been tough to raise.

This week, museum President Neil Barclay said he was relaxing slightly. The Wilson Center was selected to receive one of the first Museum Grants for African American History and Culture, part of a new effort by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to help African American museums with management, programming and operations.

In his appeal, Barclay told the institute what he needed more than anything else was a director of programs. The agency is awarding the center $58,000, which will be matched by the Heinz Endowments.

The new grant program, which Thursday announced the first recipients of grants totaling more than $800,000, grew out of the founding legislation for the National Museum of African American History and Culture that the Smithsonian Institution is planning for the Washington Mall. The law asked the government to help improve the operations of smaller African American museums. Supporters of African American cultural institutions were worried the new museum on the Mall would siphon money and collections that might have gone to smaller museums.

That worry has subsided, said Lawrence Pijeaux, president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and president of the Assn. of African American Museums. "I am glad these grants have been awarded to a range of institutions. The feeling in the field now is that there will be positive working relationships with the museum on the Mall and other African American organizations," said Pijeaux.

The Civil Rights Institute received a grant of $131,000. The AAAM received an award of nearly $114,000. Other grants went to institutions in Tallahassee, Fla.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; St. Helena Island, S.C.; Hampton, Va.; and Lynchburg, Va.

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