- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
Nina Simone — the legendary singer and activist whose artistry took her around the globe — grew up in a modest, three-room clapboard home in Tryon, North Carolina.
In 2017, after years of vacancy and decay, four Black artists, conceptual artist Adam Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher, and abstract artist Julie Mehretu, joined forces to purchase Simone’s childhood home for $95,000 to save it from demolition. It has since been declared a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is now the focus of a benefit auction led by Pace Gallery.
The Nina Simone Childhood Home Benefit Auction will feature 11 contemporary artworks and benefit the Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project spearheaded by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The auction will be co-curated by Pendleton and tennis champion, entrepreneur and arts patron Venus Williams. Sotheby’s will host the online bidding from May 12-22, and the artworks will be exhibited at Pace’s New York gallery from May 12–20, culminating in a gala at the gallery’s flagship on the 20th.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this expansive project centering on the life and legacy of Nina Simone, who has been a huge inspiration for so many,” Williams said in a statement. “Each of the artists Adam and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice, and we’ve been moved by their generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause.” The participating artists are Cecily Brown, Gallagher, Johnson, Robert Longo, Mehretu, Pendleton, Martin Puryear, Sarah Sze, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney and Anicka Yi.
The gala will feature a live performance from Oscar and Grammy-award-winning musician H.E.R. (who will sing one of Simone’s songs), plus a ticketed dinner catered by James Beard Award-winning chef JJ Johnson, whose four-course menu will merge traditional Southern ingredients with French techniques.
“When Adam came to us with his idea for this benefit, we jumped at the opportunity. In his paintings, drawings, and other works, Adam creates spaces of engagement, often using indexical or documentary processes, and this whole project speaks to the vast scope of that vision,” Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery, said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with this group of incredibly talented, influential artists to spotlight the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project. The Action Fund does such crucial work in preserving sites of Black history, and we’re excited to have Brent, a leading architectural historian and preservationist, as a partner in this important initiative.”
Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is committed to reconstructing national identity, using architecture as a vessel. The fund Leggs founded was formed in the aftermath of 2017’s cultural reckoning in Charlottesville, Virginia — “a moment where our nation’s social values were not on display,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter — which revealed an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of historic preservation in American society.
At the outset, the architectural historian and preservationist says he and his team envisioned a $25 million dollar, five-year preservation campaign; now, in their fifth anniversary year, they have raised more than $90 million dollars and supported more than 200 preservation projects nationwide.
“We are a revolution in the U.S. historic preservation profession,” Leggs says. “And it’s exciting that a national program dedicated to the permanence of historic African American places is reimagining and redeploying historic preservation to expand the American story.”
This particular project, which aims to restore Simone’s birthplace in an effort to protect Black history and give it permanence, began when Leggs and Pendleton first connected five years ago.
“He and I had this shared vision, and it was a singular belief that Nina Simone deserves a physical place where her memory and legacy will endure,” Leggs shares. Under the formal partnership for this initiative, the action fund has raised $500,000 to advance preservation planning activities and design services “to understand how to carefully and appropriately intervene in the restoration of the historic building.” Presently, the home remains vacant, but official construction is planned to begin later this summer.
Ticket sales for the Pace Gallery gala will cover the cost of the event, but sale proceeds from the art auction (less the percentage retained by the participating artists) will go to the action fund. “We will use those dollars to advance short-term and long-term strategies for the Nina Simone childhood home,” Leggs says.
The action fund is also currently working on preserving other Black American monuments, including Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ (the site of Emmett Till’s 1955 funeral) and the John and Alice Coltrane Home in New York. Says Leggs: “We see these as demonstration projects that create a blueprint that can be replicated by communities across the country. We preserve these historic places not just for the moment, but the work is about the perpetual stewardship, maintenance and activation of these places for the present and future generations.”
The site of Simone’s childhood home — nearly broken by nature and forgotten to time — exists as a sustained reminder that, for Black Americans, shelter and sanctuary have often been a shared space. For Simone (whose mother was a Methodist preacher) and many others, there is faith in the private home (as a structure) and the church serves as a community home, too. And though it’s natural to remember Simone in the public sphere — the nightclubs of New Jersey, the marches of Montgomery — imagining her in the four walls of her small town home adds another register to her legacy.
“Her home is a monument and a memory of her profound cultural legacy,” Leggs says. “Together, the building and the landscape, embody Simone’s art, ideals, activism and spirit. And they tell a compelling story about the foundational moments in her life.”
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day