Venus Williams and artists are helping to restore Nina Simone's childhood home
Venus Williams is helping to save the childhood home of music icon and civil rights activist Nina Simone.
The tennis champion, who is also an entrepreneur and arts patron, has been working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to restore and preserve the Nina Simone Childhood Home. Williams teamed up with artist Adam Pendleton to curate artworks sold at an online auction and in-person exhibition to benefit the project.
"Nina Simone's legacy is what put people like me on the map today. I have opportunities to do what I love, pursue my dream because of the work that she and many others like her have put in," Williams said in a film put out by Pace Gallery, where the auction exhibition and gala was held Saturday. "People don't know enough about what she's done."
With the home facing threat of demolition, four Black New York City-based artists — Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collage artist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher and abstract artist Julie Mehretu — created an LLC and purchased the home for $95,000 in 2017, according to the National Trust website. With intentions of rehabilitating the house and celebrating Simone's legacy, they partnered with the trust and its action fund.
The 650-square-foot clapboard house in Tryon, N.C., is where Simone learned to play piano, practicing to perform in her church choir and at the local library. Plans to restore the property include modern updates, such as adding HVAC systems and a parking lot, as well as implementing community programming such as hosting artist residencies and offering live performances and walking tours of the home.
Brent Leggs, executive director of the fund, , said in the film that when people visit the site, he hopes "they will be able to be inspired by the embodied culture within the historic building and this rare culture landscape. It is a place for youth, artists, scholars and all Americans to learn about Nina Simone and her family history, to learn about this Black community, to begin to appreciate the overlooked beauty of vernacular architecture ... and begin to understand that they too, as ordinary citizens, can have extraordinary impact."
The auction exhibit, which ended last week at Pace Gallery in New York, featured works from Pendleton, Gallagher, Johnson, Mehretu, Robert Longo, Cecily Brown, Sarah Sze, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney and Anicka Yi.
The auction conducted by Sotheby's raised $5.28 million, far above its stated $2-million target.
“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 about the project. "It’s been a privilege to collaborate with Adam [Pendleton] in curating the auction.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.