Artists Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu and Adam Pendleton joined forces last year to purchase the small house in Tryon, North Carolina, where musician Nina Simone was born as Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933. The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today (June 19) that it will partner with the artists to save the crumbling property.
Per a statement, the historical preservation organization deemed the site a “National Treasure.” Brent Leggs, who leads the trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, said in a phone call with reporters this morning that the trust uses this designation to identify historical sites under threat and create preservation solutions with community partners.
“Nina Simone transcended the constraints society placed on Black female performers in the mid-20th century to become the voice of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Leggs said. “Today, Nina Simone’s childhood home, 660 square feet, is vacant and in need of repair, and lacks long-term preservation protection.”
“Last year, my fellow artists and I felt an urgent need to rescue Nina Simone’s childhood home—a need sprung from a place of political activism as well as civic duty,” Pendleton said in the statement. “A figure like Nina Simone—an African-American woman from a small town in North Carolina who became the musical voice of the Civil Rights Movement—is extraordinarily relevant to artists working today. She constantly expressed her commitment to the democratic values our country espouses by demanding that we live up to them. We are honored to partner with the National Trust to further protect her legacy.”
The trust will also work with organizations like the Eunice Waymon-Nina Simone Memorial Project and North Carolina’s African American Heritage Commission to develop a plan for preservation and use of the dwelling. The group has not yet decided on the best use for the space, but Pendleton said on the press call that the artists want to house an artist residency program there.