Photography: Nancy Pierce. Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Four African-American artists have purchased Nina Simone’s birthplace – a clapboard home in Tryon, North Carolina – to save it from redevelopment.

Conceptualist Adam Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collagist Ellen Gallagher and abstract painter Julie Mehretu pooled $95,000 of their own money to buy the house after it appeared on the market last year. The late singer and civil rights activist was born inside the home – glimpsed in this 360-degree film from The New York Times – in 1933.

Johnson told the NYT: ‘My feeling when I learned that this house existed was just an incredible urgency to make sure it didn’t go away.’

The three-room musician’s home sits on a hillock at 30 East Livingston Street in Tryon, a town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Simone – who died in 2003, aged 70 – lived in the 660 sq ft dwelling along with her many siblings.

Kevin McIntyre, a former economic development director for Polk County, bought the house in 2005 and spent over $100,000 restoring it but stumbled into money issues and lost the property. Its new artist owners don’t yet have a ‘blueprint’ for the building’s future but describe their purchase as a chance to respond to what they see as the deepening racial tensions in the US.

Added Pendleton: ‘I think sometimes artists are the best people to deal with really tricky questions – like, for instance, how to honour the legacy of someone as vital and complicated as Nina Simone.’

Artists unite to save Nina Simone’s birthplace
Photography: Nancy Pierce. Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Update 19 June 2018: The Tryon property has been named a ‘National Treasure’ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation – an accolade bestowed on fewer than 100 homes across the USA.

The organisation, which is currently undertaking in a $25 million campaign to preserve historical sites related to African-American history, is now devising an 18-month-long, $100,000 campaign to safeguard the space.

It is collaborating with local organisations including the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, and the World Monuments Fund to develop a long-term plan for the building, which could become an artist’s residence. Pendleton, Johnson, Gallagher, Mehretu will also input into its future.

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