Katherine Dunham Museum struggles to pay power bill

News-DemocratOctober 29, 2013 

— The Katherine Dunham Museum, which holds the legacy of the famed dancer who called East St. Louis her home, has been awarded a $100,000 state grant for structural improvements.

But the museum still is seeking donations to pay for its day-to-day operation. Unless museum operators come up with $486 by Thursday, there will be no lights at the building, said Leverne Backstrom, the museum board's president.

Dunham was a choreographer, educator and author, and was internationally known for the Katherine Dunham dance technique. She also was an activist who championed the plight of poor people. She chose East St. Louis as her home away from home, and when she died, she left her legacy and artifacts for the museum.

Backstrom on Tuesday accepted the $100,000 grant from the Illinois Building Fund, which is earmarked specifically for infrastructure of the museum. The grant was presented by state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis.

Backstrom said the grant will be used to repair and straighten the chimney, upgrade the soffit and fascia, and replace at least two of the five heating and air conditioning units. If there's money left over, it will go toward guttering, outside lighting, tuck-pointing and replacing windows.

"She could have left her legacy and artifacts anywhere in the world, but she chose East St. Louis, and we are very fortunate," Backstrom said.

The grant funds were released Oct. 18 and paid to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, which is serving as the fiduciary.

The more immediate concern is keeping the lights on at the building, Backstrom said. She said the board is seeking donations from the public, but as of Tuesday, they had received only two donations of $25 each.

The museum, on Pennsylvania Avenue, is open for tours by request and on Tuesday and Thursdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

On Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dunham technique certified instructor Ruby Streate holds classes. James Belk teaches drumming using the Dunham technique, and Michael Green sits in and teaches music and singing.

For guided tours or more information about the museum, call 795-5970.

Ameren has given the museum a $2,000 grant, which is to be used for holding a fundraiser, called "A Night of Jack With Denise Thames," on Nov. 19 at Grand Marais Lighthouse in Centreville. Tickets are $25 in advance and $28 at the door. The museum's children's workshop also will perform at the event.

Backstrom said the museum needs financial donations and memberships to sustain it. There are five categories for memberships: $25 for the basic membership; $50 for a silver membership; $250 for a gold membership; and $1,000 for a legacy membership. All memberships are renewable annually in July, when the museum holds a a dance seminar.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service