Spady Cultural Heritage Museum Regroups

Keeping the Past Alive Despite Funds Cutbacks by Paula Detwiller Special to The Pineapple

For the past 10 years, the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum has displayed and shared the history of Delray Beach’s African American community. Housed in a restored 1926 home at 170 NW 5th Avenue, the museum has attracted visitors of all ages, races, and nationalities, contributing to a greater aware- ness and understanding of local African American history. This year, the museum was challenged by a present-day economic reality: the recession. Faced with fewer grant opportunities, increasing costs, and a decline in donations, the nonprofit organization EPOCH (Expanding and Preserving Our Cultural Heritage), which operates the museum, is scaling back and retooling for the future. EPOCH is one of five nonprofit organiza- tions receiving annual operating funds from the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). With fewer revenues to spread around this fiscal year, the CRA approved a smaller-than-requested budget allotment for EPOCH and asked their Board of Directors to work on becoming more self-sustaining. “Like a lot of other nonprofits in today’s economy, Spady Museum is having to stream- line their operations,” said CRA Marketing and Grants Manager Elizabeth Burrows. “They’re having to get more creative with their partnerships, their fundraising, and their programming, but it’s going to make them more focused and better equipped to fulfill their mission.” Fortunately, creativity comes naturally to Charlene Jones, who has served as the museum’s Educational Programs Director since 2002. She and Brandy Brownlee, who serves as Museum Educator, are EPOCH’s two remaining employees now that the organiza- tion’s budget has shrunk by more than half.

“We just have to go back to our roots,” Jones said. “Reassess and begin again.” Part of the reassessment has been the sus- pension of children’s educational programs for the time being, and the scaling down of the annual Spady Day Festival. It also includes focusing sharply on expanding the museum’s base of supporters. “Our Board is currently evaluating how they will structure the development effort,” Jones said. This effort could include soliciting grants, private donations, endowments, or bequests. In the meantime, Jones and Brownlee are busy coordinating the museum’s traditional activities while implementing some new ideas as well. In October, 130 people attended Spady’s first Soulful Tastings fundraiser at Patio Delray restaurant. The food and wine event paired traditional Southern dishes with South African wines. “It was a fun event that was also educa- tional,” Brownlee said. “Not many people realize that so many great wines are made in South Africa, and it was exciting to experience them with traditional soul food.” Another new series called “Playwrights and Play Readings” targets more thespian- minded individuals. Each event features an unpublished, unproduced play by or about the African Diaspora. Participants read through the play in character while the play wright watches via Skype. The readings are insightful, providing valuable information the playwrights use to better prepare their scripts for the stage.
Many other programs have remained in place, although some have been scaled back. The footprint of this year’s Annual Spady Day Festival, on November 5th, was scaled down to fill only one block of NW 5th Avenue. However, festivities still included live music and dance performances, food vendors, and children activities. The museum’s popular “Ride and Remember Trolley Tour” through Delray’s five historic districts will continue to be held on the second Saturday of each month from September to May. The public will again be invited to Spady’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast in January, a fundraiser for the museum that brings all residents of the city together to celebrate Dr. King’s life. Beginning in February, the museum will again sponsor the lecture series “Connecting Community and Culture” as part of Black History Month. And Spady will again co-host the weeklong “Palm Beach County History Institute” in June for Palm Beach County School District teachers, who learn how to incorporate local African American history into their lesson plans. And, of course, the museum will continue to host up to four changing exhibits a year. Ideas include creating an exhibit from the Spady Museum archives, and a community exhibition featuring cultural artifacts from the personal collections of local African Americans. “Spady Museum remains a vibrant cultur- al attraction in Delray Beach,” Jones said. “We’re not going anywhere.” The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by appointment on Saturdays. For more information call the museum at (561) 279-8883, or visit Paula Detwiller writes professionally for the CRA and other clients. Her website/blog can be found at