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Artists Save Home of Singer and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone

Shortly after the three-room childhood home of singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone appeared on the market last year, African American artists Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, and Adam Pendleton came together to purchase and preserve the building, Randy Kennedy of the New York Times reports.

While Simone’s family lived in several homes in Tryon, North Carolina, the house at Thirty East Livingston Street is the one she was born in. Upon learning of its uncertain future, the four artists leapt into action, combining their assets to place the winning bid of $95,000 for the property. “It wasn’t long after the election that this all began to happen, and I was desperate like a lot of people to be engaged, and this felt like exactly the right way,” Johnson said. “My feeling when I learned that this house existed was just an incredible urgency to make sure it didn’t go away.”

Kevin McIntyre, a former economic development director for Polk County, originally purchased the house for $100,000 in 2005 and had worked on restoring it before he encountered financial difficulties. He had hoped to make it into a museum and community center. McIntyre tracked down Simone’s brother Carrol Waymon to learn how the home looked when Simone lived there.

After McIntyre lost the property, New York painter Verne Dawson, who owns a farm nearby, spoke with his wife, MoMA curator Laura Hoptman, about finding investors to save the historic site. Hoptman first thought about reaching out to musicians before calling Pendleton about the idea.

“It took me about five seconds to know what I wanted to do, and I called Rashid and we talked and we knew we wanted to get women artists involved, and it all happened very quickly,” Pendleton said. “We don’t have a blueprint for our ideas yet, but I think sometimes artists are the best people to deal with really tricky questions—like, for instance, how to honor the legacy of someone as vital and complicated as Nina Simone.”

McIntyre said, “This is really what we’ve been praying for. We wanted a place that, in the right hands, would become inspirational not only as a relic of the past but as a catalyst for right now.”