National Black Theater Museum Proposed for Brooks Art Building


  • Kevin Barre Photography
  • Brooks Museum of Art

A National Black Theater Museum could make its home in the soon-to-be vacant Brooks  Museum of Art building by 2023.

The idea was presented to a Memphis City Council committee Tuesday by Ekundayo Bandele, CEO and founder of Hattiloo Theater, the would-be founding organization of the museum.

The museum, costing anywhere from $50 to $100 million, would be “of the future,” Bandele said, and equipped with touchscreen and virtual reality exhibits featuring manuscripts and archives from the 1400s to present day.

It would serve as an “anchor in the theater district” and “add cultural density in Midtown,” Bandele said. “This could be our new COGIC.”

Every year 60,000 people visit Winston-Salem for the National Black Theater Festival and Bandele said with a black theater museum in Memphis, “there should be no reason they shouldn’t be coming to our city.”

Additionally, he touched on a possible partnership between the museum and Rhodes College’s theater and Africana studies programs.

As Memphis College of Arts is set to close its doors in 2020, he adds that there’s an opportunity for Rhodes to purchase the college’s old building and work more closely with the museum.

City administration was asked by Bandele to forgo the request for proposal period for the Brooks building and grant Hailoo exclusive rights to flesh out their proposal.

But, the city’s chief operating officer Doug McGowen said because “we have a creative community, it’s fair” that the city accept other proposals for 90 days. After that period, one group will be allowed to move forward with due diligence and begin the process of drafting detailed proposals and securing funding.

City council chair Berlin Boyd said the museum fits the needs of the city, but because the Brooks building is a city-owned asset, “you want to be fair” and allow other citizens to present ideas for the space.

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