Nashville’s long, distinguished history in terms of African-American cultural accomplishments dates back centuries, to the early days of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, whose international exploits helped lead to Nashville getting the tag of “Music City.”
The array of diverse contributions ranges from pioneering scholars, authors and educators at Fisk and Tennessee State universities and Meharry Medical College to the array of performers who appeared in nightclubs on and around Jefferson Street or made influential and innovative recordings in city studios. This cast also includes great artists like Aaron Douglas, who created a mural for Fisk in 1930 and was a professor of art at the school for 27 years.
But there’s never been a central place in the city where the events and achievements of Nashville’s black cultural innovators could be celebrated, or where people from all over the world could learn about them.
That will change in the next couple of years, when the Museum of African American Music, Art & Culture opens its doors. Groundbreaking is set to begin in 2010 for this ambitious project, whose look, scope and mission involve chronicling the extensive range of black Nashville contributions across the cultural spectrum, with the museum now slated to open in 2012.
The museum, to contain 55,000 square feet of usable interior space, will be located at the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the southeast corner of the Eight Avenue North and Jefferson Street intersection. While paying homage to the city’s storied African-American North Nashville, the site is also significant as it is near the proposed site for a new Tennessee State Museum.
“We see this as something that will be a centerpiece for not only black cultural achievement but for the heritage and history of Nashville,” said Paula Roberts, the museum’s executive director. “People coming here will see all types of things that they either didn’t know or haven’t really been aware of in terms of what Nashville’s black community has given not just to America, but to the world in terms of music and art. It’s an undertaking that we feel will really give people an idea of how vast and important the contributions of Nashville’s black community have been to the world of art and culture.”
Tuck Hinton Architects (Kem Hinton, principal) and Harold Thompson Architects provided the conceptual footprint.
The building will house exhibits, archives and classrooms, among other features. There will be approximately 16,000 square feet devoted to exhibition space, but this also includes areas for classrooms, some administrative offices, and other areas devoted to everything from research files to storage.
Another portion of the building will be available for lectures and both regular and special community forums and functions, plus receptions and even events tied into other events happening within the State Capitol area.
The plan also designates a parking area for approximately 70 vehicles, plus pull-off areas for five to six school and tour buses.
“Where we wanted this museum to be different from others already in place around the country was the connection between African-American music, art and culture,” Roberts continued. “You certainly can’t have a museum in Nashville without a heavy musical component, but we’ll also have artifacts, paintings, collections, visual arts, crafts, exhibits, many other things that spotlight the entire black cultural landscape. We’re already finding there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air about the project, and I think as it continues to take shape there will be even more.”
Both the leadership board and taskforce for the Museum of African American Music, Art & Culture has many impressive names of longtime activists, business leaders and key members of Nashville’s community.
Dr. T.B. Boyd III is chairman emeritus and Francis S. Guess is vice chairman emeritus of the museum’s foundation board. Kevin Lavender is chairman, Butch Spyridon is vice chair, Harvey Hoskins is treasurer, David Williams is corporate secretary and Connie Kinnard is chief operating officer.
Drs. Reavis Mitchell, Forest Harris and Bobby L. Lovett; Tennessee Tribune publisher/editor Rosetta Miller Perry; and many other prominent figures are part of the taskforce, while Connie Kinnard is chief operating officer for the African American History Foundation of Nashville (AAHFN), as well as senior vice president of multicultural sales and development.
The project moved from the conceptual to the practical stage following a series of community meetings in 2005. After getting ideas from all types of Nashvillians, the foundation and museum board and taskforce began to select and implement those suggestions they deemed most suitable for the new building. Recurring themes include diversity and versatility.
The goal is to make the facility not just a locale to visit once or twice a year, but a place where people regularly gather and utilize in many ways.
Earlier this year, a city grant for $10 million was approved for the project. Last year, AT&T also announced a $120,000 contribution to support the museum. A private-sector campaign is now underway to assist in further developing the museum.
“When this project is completed, it will be something that illuminates and differentiates Nashville in a manner that stands out from anywhere else and any other museum,” Roberts concluded. “It will be something that all Nashvillians can enjoy, take pride in and celebrate.”