The Weeksville Heritage Center, which kicked off a crowdfunding campaign after struggling to stay afloat, will receive a coveted city designation ensuring the Brooklyn museum receives funds to cover basic operating costs, according to the city.
The Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is adding Weeksville to a list of 33 Cultural Institutions Groups (CIG) that receive city funds in exchange for providing cultural services to New Yorkers. Rob Fields, the president and executive director of Weeksville, says having that guaranteed “pool of funds” each year will help the museum continue its mission of preserving the history behind a pre-Civil War African American settlement in Crown Heights.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Fields told Curbed. “One of our long hopes was to become a permanent line item in the city budget and I’m thrilled that is going to happen.”
This is the museum’s second bid to become a CIG. It applied in 2013 but was denied. With its new status, it will become the first historic black CIG in Brooklyn. DCA recognizes Weeksville as an important part of the city’s history and plans to include it into the CIGs “following a collaborative planning process to unfold in the months ahead,” according to Ryan Max, a spokesperson with DCA.
“Weeksville Heritage Center tells the vitally important story of this free black community, a story central to New York City’s history and the history of African Americans living here,” said Max. “With permanent, stable funding from the City, Weeksville will be able to keep its doors open and thrive like never before, engaging new audiences and preserving this essential link to our past.”
Municipal dollars Weeksville receives will help the institution fund basic maintenance, administration, security, and energy costs. The city has yet to determine how much it will dole out to the historic site, but Fields hopes officials will “base line us at a higher level” considering the museum’s precarious position.
In May, Weeksville launched a crowdfunding campaign after revealing that the nonprofit was in danger of closing its doors due to climbing costs and shrinking funding. Since then, the effort has raked in more than $266,000 from over 4,100 donors in seven countries, including Australia, Switzerland, and Poland.
Currently, the city has kicked in $378,675 in programing funds and $78,000 towards the museum’s energy bills for the fiscal year 2019, DCA has said. But costs to maintain the museum’s 23,000-square-foot visitor and education center and its landmarked Historic Hunterfly Road Houses that are over 100-years-old have mounted and left the museum struggling to make ends meet. But now, as a CIG, the museum has a brighter future and will continue to serve as a historic resource for the city, said one local pol.
“Weeksville is sacred African American ground. For generations, it served as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge from the vestiges of slavery,” said Brooklyn Council member Laurie Cumbo. “Supporting Weeksville as a Cultural Institutions Group is a recognition of African American longevity and a commitment from the city writ large.”