For years, residents in Tyron, North Carolina were unaware that Nina Simone occupied a modest home in their neighborhood until she died in 2003. Since then, several artists have come forward to preserve the home, purchasing it for $95,000 and donating it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has marked the home a “national treasure.” Now Venus Williams has joined the ranks in renovating the home, which people say is in desperate need of repair.
Earlier this week, the tennis star partnered with other artists, including Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu and Ellen Gallagher to curate a benefit auction for the cause. From May 12-22, the sale will gather supporters for a gala dinner with a goal to raise $5 million.
“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 in a statement to the National Trust. “Each of the artists Adam and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice, and we’ve been moved by their generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause.”
Simone was born and raised in North Carolina in 1933 and was the sixth of eight children. She developed a love of classical music at a young age and would eventually be awarded a scholarship to attend the Julliard School of Music, one of the world’s most prestigious performing arts schools. She would end up becoming a civil rights activist, infusing music and social justice work to fight for equal rights among women and people of color.
“Nina Simone is one of the most important musical artists of the 20th century,” says Pendleton in the statement. “I’m inspired to be able to protect her legacy by preserving her childhood home. Her music, her vision, cannot be forgotten.”
Proceeds from the auction will go to the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Fund, an organization “formed in 2017 to aid stewards of Black cultural sites throughout the nation in preserving both physical landmarks, their material collections and associated narratives,” according to its website.
It is unclear what the organization will do with the house once they have raised the funds, but there are talks that they will restore the structure of the home to its original condition and offer tours of the historic site. Another idea floating around is to rebuild the home with contemporary upgrades, which will be used for programming and performances.
“Nina Simone’s childhood home provides a lens into the contours of her life growing up in the Jim Crow South,” Brent Leggs, the fund’s executive director, said in a statement. “Our partnership with the artists, Venus Williams and Pace Gallery is a powerful demonstration of how art and preservation practice can join forces to permanently preserve Simone’s remarkable legacy.”