Lack of community support slows center's development

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AIKEN — Two years have passed since workers began renovating the building at York Street and Richland Avenue that will house the Center for African-American History, Art & Culture.

Exterior work has been completed, but renovation of the interior of the former Immanuel Institute building has been sporadic.

"I think the community has had a lot of conflict about supporting it," said Mike Anaclerio, of the Aiken Corp., which owns the property. "The overall community has not supported it. The feeling was it was just an extra museum."

It is not a museum, Mr. Anaclerio said, but an interactive learning center.

Its exhibits will chronicle the family, religious, community, business and educational lives of blacks in Aiken County.

The project needs to be completed first, and to do that the center needs an additional $800,000.

The original budget called for $1.9 million to get the facility fully operational, but funding fell short of that goal.

Organizers and members of the Aiken Corp. have raised more than $1 million.

More than $400,000 came from private donations, and $360,000 came from Aiken's accommodations tax, which is added to hotel room charges.

Aiken County has provided $100,000, and the state has contributed $250,000.

Other funding has come from the sale of a book, A Pictorial History of African Americans in Aiken County, published in August.

The book, written by six Aiken residents, chronicles the role blacks played in the development of Aiken County, starting with Reconstruction.

Joanne Saunders, of the Aiken Downtown Development Corp., said it has sold nearly 500 copies.

The 160-page book sells for $39.95 and is available at area bookstores.

"Sales are steady," she said. "People are looking forward to a second printing."

Mr. Anaclerio said the Aiken Corp. is deciding on a contractor to do the exhibits and hopes to hire a director, who will be in charge of fundraising.

The economic problems are contributing to the slow fundraising, but Mr. Anaclerio said that's not the only factor.

"(The project) has not been embraced by the community," he said. "We're still looking for the citizens of Aiken to recognize that the culture center is part of the heritage corridor."

Established in the 1890s by Presbyterian missionaries, the Immanuel Institute educated the children of former slaves.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.


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