City wins $11M grant from Mellon Foundation for heritage center

Richmond has scored an $11 million grant to help launch the long-stalled Shockoe Heritage Campus, whose key purpose is to remember Richmond’s role as a center of the slave trade before the Civil War.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney on Tuesday announced the award from the Mellon Foundation, the largest single grant awarded this year for a project to examine, preserve and re-imagine history.

The city’s grant is part of $16 million that the New York-based foundation awarded to Richmond history nonprofits, including the JXN Project that seeks to commemorate the history of Jackson Ward and The Valentine, the museum that focuses on Richmond’s history.

“The grant will fund the creation of an interactive space inside Main Street Station that will be designed to “engage audiences in the full history of Shockoe.”

That includes the stories of free and enslaved Black people and Native Americans as well as Jewish people and other immigrant populations who also have been part of Shockoe Bottom’s history, he stated.

He stated the center would occupy 12,300 square feet in the north end of the first floor of the station in an area that now includes the state and city’s welcome center for visitors. The new center would include programming and exhibition space and an immersive history experience for visitors. The city already has issued a request for proposals for a consulting firm to plan the space.

The grant will enable Richmond to take “a significant step toward bringing the heritage campus to fruition,” Mayor Stoney continued.

Phil Wilayto leads the Virginia Defenders, a quarterly newspaper that has pushed for 20 years to call attention to the city’s slavery history and the enslaved, expressed his reaction to the funding.

“We are happy that after two decades of community struggle, major funders outside the city are recognizing the tremendous his- torical importance of Shockoe to the Black community,” he said.

Mr. Wilayto said that his organization’s goal will be to en- sure that the grant funds are used in a way that “will materially benefit the descendant community of the enslaved” through the creation of jobs as well as business opportunities.

According to the city, the project would follow the city’s minority business guidelines.

Envisioned for more than 10 years, the heritage campus is to include a memorial park on land where slave trading once flourished, and a national slavery museum.

“The city has already committed $27.9 million in capital improvement dollars for the campus,” the mayor noted.

However, a draft plan for Shockoe Bottom that was to guide development of the campus and other properties remains on hold. A draft plan that was released last year has not been finalized and presented to City Council for approval.

According to the Virginia Defenders newspaper, the Stoney administration has hired another consulting firm to determine if development of the proposed $220 million slavery museum in that low section of the city is feasible.

Mellon also awarded:

• $1.5 million to the JXN Project that Dr. Sesha Joi Moon and Enjoli Moon co-founded to support the project’s effort to create a reproduction of the home of Abraham Peyton Skipwith, the first Black person to live in Jackson Ward, and to build on their research and storytelling about a community that Mellon described as the nation’s first historically registered Black urban neighborhood.

• $1.2 million to The Valentine to re-imagine the studio of Richmond sculptor Edward Valentine, to re-interpret the Wickham House, a former enslavement site, and to provide the public with a deeper understanding of the Jim Crow era in Richmond.

• $1 million to Cary Forward, founded and led by renowned artist Paul Rucker, to support the multidisciplinary arts space and interpretive center he has opened in Carytown and enable him to provide for an artist/scholar residency and further develop an archival library to preserve and promote omitted history.

• $850,000 to Untold RVA led by Free Egunfemi to boost its capacity to explore Richmond’s enslavement-era history and develop walkable routes for visitors to learn more the city’s past and its links to the African diaspora.

• $670,000 to Reclaiming the Monument to enable founding artists Dustin Klein and Alex Criqui to create more light shows addressing issues of historical, racial and social justice in the city and surrounding region.