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Council OKs $120,000 for museum celebrating African American experience

Rendering of the proposed People's Museum Rendering of the proposed People's Museum

The Hendersonville City Council unanimously passed a motion Thursday evening to partner with Hands On! Children’s Museum in establishing the People's Museum on Main Street. However, the council did not commit to the full five years of proposed funding up front.


Joseph Knight, executive director of Hands On!, presented to council regarding a partnership and creation of the People’s Museum. The space will highlight the culture of the people of Hendersonville and Henderson County, particularly celebrating the African-American experience. The People's Muesum will occupy an adjoining property to Hands On!’s current location at 318 N Main St and will be free to the public. The proposed facility will also be the new home for the Walk of Fame.

Council ultimately agreed to support the project, though it was decided to initially commit to funding only years one and two and then support Hands On! further according to their need and the Council’s budget.

In his presentation, Knight asked the members of council to “join me in envisioning a brighter future for our children” and to commit to providing five years of supplementary funding for the project. The museum’s proposal requested $78,000 for the first year and $42,000 annually for the following four. The first-year funds would go evenly towards construction and towards lease of the space, while successive contributions only support the leas

“We understand that this is a lot of money, but we also understand the museum’s responsibility… to ensure we have the proper resources for our children to not only make sense of themselves but our world," Knight said.

Council Member Jeff Miller said, “I am concerned for a couple of reasons about making the decision tonight.” He said that the project had not been fully presented or discussed by bodies like the NAACP or city diversity committee. “I don’t feel like it is our choice to pick where it is.”

“I am absolutely for the museum,” Miller said. “I don’t think that there is a real urgent need for you to have this money this week or you guys are going to go away.”

“There is a time factor,” Knight said, “If we are not able to justify a reason for maintaining the unit one space, then strategically we may have to let that space go.”

Council member Jennifer Hensley said of her and her family that “We have been very big supporters of Hands On! for many years.” Of the project, she said, “I feel like the timing of this seems super rushed. A $246,000 commitment from the city is a lot of money.”

“I chair the Henderson County social services board," she added, "so I am very passionate about children and needy adults in this community… Henderson County has taken in approximately 30 additional foster children over the last couple months. We are up to 188 children in foster care in our community and that is up from 136 this time last year.”  Additionally, she said, “42 percent of Henderson County kids are in poverty currently.”

Hensley said, “If we have this kind of money to spend, are we feeding our kids in our community, are we clothing them, are we making sure they are getting adequate heat? While I feel this is a strong want for our community, I feel like there are a lot of needs that aren’t being completely met.”

She added that she thought the topic might be better suited for the council’s February budget meeting.

Council member Jerry Smith said, “Taking first step for something new is always a challenge.” He expressed his support for the project and said, “I think it is our best opportunity to get it done in a location which is very prominent.”

Concerning the budget, Smith gave a round figure of $16 million to represent the city budget, adding that is usually goes up annually. He said the first-year cost would be 0.5% of their annual budget and successive years 0.3%. “A very small cost to participate in this project,” he said.

As for Hensley’s concerns over children’s wellbeing, he said, “I am a foster parent, so I completely agree that it is a crisis right now and that we need as many people as possible to step forward and be foster parents for the kids who need care. As a foster parent, I completely support this project because we’re not only feeding kids the food they need to eat, and we’re not only feeding kids with the love that they need, but ultimately we’re feeding their minds.”

“Joseph and Hands On! are under a time crunch. They have to decide whether or not to keep unit one,” Smith said, “The time is now to make this happen.”

Council Member Lyndsey Simpson said, “As a mother, when we moved to this city the first thing we did was look up things we can do with the kids.” She expressed her support for the project, saying, “We need places for children to go and activities for families to do.”

“Just a couple months ago we all sat in a room and we had a meeting about diversity and equity,” Simpson said. “We wanted to do something that means something and progresses the community forward… Joseph and Hands On! have brought to us a proposal that does exactly what we said we wanted to do.”

Mayor Barbara Volk asked Knight about the museum’s budget, self-sufficiency and how the funding would support rent for parts of Hands On! outside of the proposed People’s Museum.

“I am actually willing to go along with the proposal, but what I would like to see rather than a definite 5-year commitment of certain amounts, is that every year the budget would be reviewed,” she said, “If you are doing really well, we can cut down on the city’s payment.”

Knight asked, “Would this council be in support of committing the year one and two and then doing the revisit on years three through five? I only ask that, because in my opinion we are not going to see a normal year until 2022.”

The council agreed to the request and altered the motion to reflect the discussed changes.

This decision followed the vocal support of seven individuals for the project during public comment.