One of New York City’s most necessary cultural institutions, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, is in danger of shutting down as soon as this summer if it does not raise $200,000 in emergency funding before July.
“Rising operating costs and the challenging fundraising environment for black cultural institutions have put all the work we do in jeopardy,” the organization’s president, Rob Fields, wrote in an email obtained by Brownstoner. “We might have to shut our doors in July. It’s that serious.”
In order to close that funding gap, the center has launched a crowdfunding campaign through Crowdrise, with a goal of $200,000. As of press time, it had raised close to $10,000.
A video that accompanies the crowdfunding campaign, narrated by actor and Brooklynite Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire), dives into the history of Weeksville: The center is located on the site of the first community established by free black professionals in 1838, 11 years after slavery was abolished in New York City. Though it was very nearly lost in the mid-20th-century, a group of activists and historians uncovered its history, and the Weeksville Heritage Center was founded in 1968.
The complex includes the 19th-century Hunterfly Houses, some of which date back to the site’s founding (and are now both New York City landmarks, and on the National Register of Historic Places), as well as a newer museum building that was designed by Caples Jefferson Architects and opened in 2014.
Despite the site’s historical importance, funding for its upkeep has not always been easy to come by. A New Yorker piece from 2014 noted that Weeksville laid off half of its staff even as it was in the midst of opening that new center. Though it receives some city funding, much of its operating budget is covered by private donors—and as it notes on the campaign website, “it’s an extremely difficult funding environment for black cultural institutions.”
The $200,000 they’re hoping to raise will give them a cushion to stay open through September, and “give us time to plan for the future”:
We will use that time to engage in a critical, much-needed strategic planning process to develop an operational and funding model that’s much more appropriate for the non-profit landscape we find ourselves in now. 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.
While there are other cultural institutions in New York that are dedicated to black history and culture (including the NYPL’s Schomburg Center and the Studio Museum in Harlem), Weeksville is unique in that it has preserved a period in time—and a community—for which there isn’t always a lot of documentation.
“With your help, we can get through this challenging moment,” the campaign website reads.