EAST ST. LOUIS, IL (KTVI) – The Katherine Dunham Museum in East St. Louis is one the city’s most iconic buildings, but it’s at risk of closure.
The world-renowned dancer and social activist left her legacy in the city she loved. Curator Leverne Backstrom says preserving the museum is her passion, but a lack of funding is making it hard to keep the lights on. Ultimately, the lack of electricity will make the building easy prey for vandals.
“Ms. Dunham could’ve left her legacy anywhere. The artifacts, memorabilia it’s all here for the world to see. The risk is as real as if I don’t have $486 by Thursday the lights will be turned off,” Backstrom explains.
There are no paid employees and all of the work done at the museum is voluntary. The State of Illinois recently gave the museum $100,000 to help keep the building intact.
“Representative Etta Jackson, the 114th representative for Illinois asked the Legislature for funds to help preserve the Katherine Dunham legacy,” she said.
However, there are limits to how the money can be spent. It can only be used to fix the infrastructure of the building and not for the cost of operations.
“We will straighten up the chimneys, get the outside lighting done, shore up the retaining wall, plumbing, heating, air conditioning units will also be upgraded.”
Backstrom is hoping the upgrades will create event space and help generate revenue. In the meantime, the museum will continue to survive day by day until staff can find more money to keep the legacy of Katherine Dunham alive.
“The Dunham museum is a well- kept secret. It needs to be out there, people need to know the building is here. I started this job and intend to see it through,” she said.
Find out more about the Dunham Museum: http://kdcah.org/museum/
Follow Shawndrea Thomas on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShawndreaThomasFOX2