Crown Heights

Weeksville will be first black city-funded cultural institution in Brooklyn

June 14, 2019 Lore Croghan
Historic houses at Weeksville Heritage Center. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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Weeksville Heritage Center, which was in danger of closing due to a budget shortfall, has been designated as the newest member of the city’s Cultural Institutions Group — the first new addition in more than 20 years, and the first black cultural center in Brooklyn to make the list.

“It’s official,” Rob Fields, president and executive director of the center, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday afternoon. “We’re thrilled. I’m just about to tell my staff.”

There are still details to be worked out, Fields said. But even without knowing how much the Crown Heights museum will get annually, he knows it greatly improves his museum’s chances for financial stability.  

Fields said he had just gotten a call from Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of the city Department of Cultural Affairs.

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Finkelpearl and Mayor Bill de Blasio are the only people in city government with the power to decide who gets to be part of the exclusive group. It has just 33 members — and nobody new has been added to the fold since 1998.

Members of the Cultural Institutions Group receive unrestricted operating grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs, which also pays their heat, light and power bills.

The DCA’s website provides the following definition of the CIG:

“Members of this group are each located on City-owned property, and receive significant capital and operating support from the City to help meet basic security, maintenance, administration and energy costs. In return for this support, these institutions operate as publicly-owned facilities whose mandate is to provide cultural services accessible to all New Yorkers.”

“This is a huge honor,” Fields told the Eagle.

He hopes this opens up opportunities for other Brooklyn cultural institutions to be included in the group.

Fields said the credit goes to City Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who campaigned hard to win this designation for Weeksville Heritage Center.

He also expressed his thanks to Finkelpearl and de Blasio.

In an announcement on Friday afternoon, Cumbo underscored the importance of this designation — the first black Cultural Institutions Group member in Brooklyn.

Weeksville Heritage Center was facing closure on July 1 if it did not raise $200,000 through a CrowdRise donations campaign. They surpassed that goal in less than two weeks, but had their eye on ensuring future stability. 

“Today we can rest assured that the City has backed [Weeksville Heritage Center’s] struggle,” Cumbo said.

While the museum was fundraising via CrowdRise, Cumbo and her fellow Councilmembers and other politicians, including the Brooklyn Black Elected Officials Coalition, urged the de Blasio Administration to add Weeksville Heritage Center to the Cultural Institutions Group fold.  

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