Minnesota’s fledgling Black museum sold at auction

Organizers vow to buy it back or build elsewhere

Mansion on 3rd Avenue South is prospective home of Minnesota African American Museum.
Mansion on 3rd Avenue South is prospective home of Minnesota African American Museum.

If previous commitments had been kept, the Minnesota African American Museum (MAAM) would be open and in full operation, says its leadership. MAAM leaders first began to raise funds for opening the museum in 2008, and according to current President Nekima Levy-Pounds, the project “met the million-dollar match” in 2011, when the group sought state funding.

“But the State didn’t release the grant funds…even though the State had certified that the bonds will be lifted. They never released the funds,” Levy-Pounds said in an MSR phone interview.

She blames the “seven-year battle” to get MAAM open on “institutionalized racism,” as well as the absence of “a strong investment” in Black culture and heritage, not only in Minnesota but nationwide.

“When I got involved [in 2014], I personally witnessed the barriers,” explained Levy-Pounds. “I saw the fact that [some people] did not have the museum’s interest at heart. They didn’t want the doors of the museum to open.”

The building intended to house the Black museum, a mansion on 3rd Avenue South in Minneapolis, was put up for sale and sold at auction last month. Now MAAM leaders have six months to buy back the property, stated its president.

“We look at the millions and millions that were devoted towards culture and heritage of White Minnesotans…compared to the money [devoted to] preserving the culture and artifacts of African Americans. I would argue a tremendous injustice has [been done] to our community with all the barriers and roadblocks that were put in place by our government leaders as well as the construction company that was entrusted to [do the restoration project],” continued the St. Thomas law professor.

She faulted Knutson Construction Services for not fulfilling their contractual obligations after being hired for the restoration project. There was “confusion, challenges on the [construction] timeline on the project,” she pointed out. “No one portion of [the building] was completed, despite the fact that the museum paid out thousands of dollars toward remodeling of the project.”

Knutson stopped work in 2013 and later sued MAAM for non-payment and won. “We tried to negotiate with them to see if we could get the work completed at an affordable rate. We did try to work with them, but it was a hopeless process. They were not willing to acknowledge the shoddy job in the beginning work of the project.

“Anybody walking through the museum can see the conditions they left it in,” said Levy-Pounds. “They [Knutson] came in and haphazardly remodeled the museum” and did a poor job as a result, she noted.

The MSR sought comment from Knutson but received no response within a two-week period before this story went to press.

“It was not a right fit” with Knutson, said Levy-Pounds. “We probably should have identified a different company. We would need to raise a minimum of $1.3 million dollars to buy back the property,” she explained. “We also would lobby our government officials to help get resources to open the doors” as well as finally receiving the matching State funds originally earmarked for MAAM.

Levy-Pounds surmised that six months to a year is probably needed to finally finish the MAAM at its current location. “We are prepared to find another company to complete the project,” she said, adding that whoever is hired to complete the work left behind by Knutson “would have to start over.”

Levy-Pounds and other MAAM officials have vowed to get the museum — first proposed several years ago — “open at the current site or someplace else.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.