Aiken’s Center for African American History, Art and Culture $600K short of completing final phase


AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) – Restoration efforts on Aiken’s African-American Cultural Center has been inching along for more than a decade.

The building, on York Street, was purchased in 2004 through some city funding.

Nearly $1.5 million dollars has been invested into the cultural center and it’s still not done.

The organization has raised $400,000 dollars, but they are still $600,000 dollars short of completing the final phase.

Aiken County was founded by 10 men, 9 of which were African-American, so keeping this history alive is instrumental to Aiken’s future.

“As you can see this is like the mouth of the boat and once you walk out that door, then that’s where the other exhibits will start.” Executive Director Joanne Saunders told WJBF NewsChannel 6.

Saunders is determined to transform the building to its former glory.

The historic site was once known as the Immanuel Institute, a school for free slaves in Aiken County.

However, in 13 years restoration efforts have been inching along.

“Something like this takes times and in this economy fundraising is not always plentiful,” said Saunders.

Saunders says she’s applied for more tax grants, for the African-American History, Art and Culture Center, which the city has awarded before.

As part of the final phase of the project, Saunders is working to partner with major corporations that help will fund the permanent exhibits.

The plan is to turn the second floor into an event venue and make the ground level the exhibition floor.

“It’s going to be 9 exhibits that’s going to take you on a trip from African to Aiken and each exhibit will tell you how African-Americans contributed to Aiken, South Carolina and the world.” Saunders said.

With the recent push to make Aiken a destination, the interactive experience will put a spotlight on the African-American culture of the All-America City.

“We do have a little section in our other museum and we just needed some place to really broadcast, so to speak, our history.” Events Committee member Paulette Owens told WJBF NewsChannel 6.

The Executive Director is hopeful the cultural center will be completed by 2018.

To learn more about the center or make a monetary pledge, click here. 

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