Woodson Museum begins its future growth

The Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum is looking to add 10,000-square feet.

BY JEFFREY ZANKER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum is currently in talks for expansion. Plans to expand have been in the works for years, such as a petition to relocate into the previously unoccupied Manhattan Casino in 2016.

But, it was not until 2017 that Terri Lipsey Scott, the museum’s executive director, decided to go for state funding. The city sent a request to Senator Darryl Rouson for state funds, which he was able to secure $250,000 for expansion plans in the 2018-19 state budget.

“We are only in the discussion phase right now in regards to what we would like to see,” Lipsey Scott said.

Since 2006, the museum, located on 2240 9th Ave. S, has presented monthly exhibits of artists’ works, programs, community events and forums that tie in with their mission statement to help “preserve, present and interpret African-American history.”

Some of the events and programs held at the museum include Florida Orchestra concerts, various festivals, book clubs, panel discussions and activities that focus on the youth.

“It’s a jewel in the neighborhood,” Rouson said.

Because of the many activities, the building is “busting out of the seams,” as Lipsey Scott put it. “Folks are typically elbow-to-elbow,” she said of the limited space.

With one gallery room where all the happenings take place, the only other space is an overcrowded storage room and one public restroom.

The building was previously the leasing office of the Jordan Park Apartments. It was renovated in 2000 and converted into a community service center for public housing.

“It was never designed to be a museum. We are just using the building,” she averred.

Her vision is to extend the size and programs while staying in the same area. According to Lipsey Scott, the center will convert into a functioning museum with more space for galleries, events and a gift shop. The extension is planned for 5,000 square feet in length and width, totaling 10,000 square feet.

“We want to come on par with our sister museums in the community,” she explained. “We have to go up and go back.”

The only issue she pointed to is that the luscious Legacy Gardens, created in 2008 for weddings, private and public events, will be encroached upon.

The planning stage began earlier this year with the RFQ (Request For Qualification) process, which selects the most highly qualified architectural firm. The chosen team was Jason Jensen, principal of the local-based Wannemacher Jensen Architects.

Mario Gooden, principal of the New York-based Huff + Gooden Architects and professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, joined the project through his contact with Jensen, whom he taught architecture to at the University of Florida. He sees the project not just on “brick and mortar,” but of a lineage of “spaces of liberation.”

“The project is important because the museum is in the lineage of African Americans born out of the history of segregation,” Gooden later said. “The history of the area is part of a national conversation about museums and cultural production.”

The team met with city council on June 13 to give an update on the project. Chris Ballestra, director of the city’s enterprise facilities, stated that the project still has a “long journey” with “many chapters to come.”

Lipsey Scott told the council that she could not be prouder of the progress, seeing the project as not just building, “but a sense of pride” for the city.

Jensen said that the preliminary design stage deals with due diligence and information research on the community.

“Making sure that we have all of the surrounding contexts both culturally, historically and physically on the ground,” he said of the process.

The next step for the team is hearing local input about the project. The museum is holding a symposium entitled “Making History/Building Vision” June 22 at the Manhattan Casino.  Speakers will include architects and renowned scholars such as local historian Gwendolyn Reese and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture curator Dr. Michelle Joan Wilkinson.

Scott said the symposium would be a public discussion between the community and speakers to formulate ideas on “what they would like to see within our community,” and “determine what we want our museum to look like.”

The team told city council that they expect to finish the report by August. Scott said that a capital campaign would begin afterward, looking into philanthropy and fundraisers as funding sources.

Another funding of $250,000 for the museum is currently on the 2019-20 state budget, according to Rouson’s political advisor Barry Edwards. The bill is expected to be signed by Governor Rick DeSantis this week.

Scott hopes the project will start next year.

“It’s a very stringent process that we have to follow,” Lipsey Scott noted. “We have to be certain to cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I.'”

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