Eric Edwards, the former AT&T executive who keeps a 1,600-piece collection of African art in his Clinton Hill apartment, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a museum for his collection. "My life's mission has shifted from building this collection, to ensuring that it can find a home where it can be preserved and cared for," he says.
With $35,000 in funding, Edwards hopes to debut The Cultural Museum of African Art by the end of the year, in Bed-Stuy. Quarters are cramped in Clinton Hill, and Edwards is looking forward to giving his collection room to breath. "We're going to have rotating exhibits on various themes," he says. "Everything from royalty, to metal works, to military items, to clothing, to musical instruments. The idea is to get space around the objects so that people can see them and feel them."
His collection includes tools, ceremonial masks, and weapons, which he has been accumulating for the past 44 years and counting. It represents all 54 countries in Africa, with artifacts dating back to the Nubian empire. He estimates that the lot is worth $10 million.
In addition, Edwards plans to display his library of books on African art, host lectures and student programs, and possibly rent studio space to local artists. If all goes according to plan, the museum will eventually offer free DNA testing to visitors curious about their genealogy. Edwards has also started meeting with curators at the Brooklyn Museum to discuss joint exhibitions.
Last week, Edwards met with Councilmember Robert Cornegy, who suggested 375 Stuyvesant Avenue—a Renaissance Revival mansion on the corner of Decatur Street in Bed-Stuy—as a possible home for the future museum.
The mansion's history is a happy coincidence for Edwards. Its former owner, the late African American gynecologist Dr. Josephine English, delivered all six of Malcolm X's daughters. She also established Adelphi Medical Center in the late 1970s. About 10 years ago, before her death in 2011, Dr. English visited Edwards' home, and suggested her mansion as a good place for a museum. "I loved it, but I wasn't ready for it then," Edwards said. "I was still a collector with his arms around his items. But I realized then that I had to put a plan in place for a museum."
Now Edwards has his museum charter in place, and has acquired nonprofit status. The funds he is hoping to raise by July 25th will go towards finalizing the museum site and the architectural design—already in the works with architect Rodney Léon, who designed the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. Edwards is also hoping to cover appraiser fees, fund expenses for the first two exhibitions, and hire a publicist and administrative assistant.
According to the Kickstarter page, public funding has been promised, but won't be available until next year, due to "fiscal budgeting timetables."
If Edwards doesn't reach his first funding goal, he says, "I'll push back the time table. But I'm going to make this happen. I see the end-game." He added, "The hardest thing about building a museum is having a great collection. I've been blessed with that."