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The Center for Black Excellence and Culture is $3M from breaking ground debt-free in spring 2024

Artist rendering of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture

With major gifts and new matching grants, the historic capital campaign to build the Center for Black Excellence and Culture in the heart of Madison’s South Side has entered the home stretch with the organization announcing on Wednesday that it has just $3 million left to raise to break ground debt-free in spring 2024.

“I don’t think, to my knowledge, that there has ever been a cultural space like this to celebrate the Black story and the accomplishments of the African diaspora of the state of Wisconsin. I don’t think that that’s ever happened statewide,” Dr. Rev. Alex Gee, CEO and founder of The Center, tells Madison365. “This will be a facility committed to telling that story and to be able to do it debt-free, that means that the Black community who has helped to design, and who have provided the initial funding, and who have inspired this project … we will feel affirmed. 

“For the broader community to get behind this with tens of millions of dollars so that we can break ground and [so that] future dollars will only go to programming and operations, it’s just historic. So it means that there is an affirmation of our presence. There’s a desire for us and our stories to be told.”

The Center for Black Excellence and Culture will be a Black-inspired, Black-designed and Black-led project that will celebrate Black culture. Scheduled to break ground in the spring of 2024, the Center is a community-wide effort to bring together a collective Black brilliance to affirm, inspire and advance the Black community in Madison and beyond, according to its mission.

The Center got closer to this historic milestone with a burst of recent major gifts and sizeable donations from individuals and businesses including $200,000 from Exact Sciences and Sheila and Kevin Conroy, and $250,000 from Mary Burke (half of her total gift of $500,000).

“I’m so pleased for the local support of local businesses who understand this is good for all of Wisconsin. It’s so exciting because the impact of this means that we won’t just talk about belonging, but we will have a pathway to belonging,” Gee says.

“Cultural reinforcements and cultural celebrations are the pathway to belonging and that’s going to impact the quality of life for Black people in his community,” Gee continues. “And that’s what we desperately need here and in the state of Wisconsin … we need a place that will give back to us and celebrate our culture and recognize our contributions.  I can’t think of anything more meaningful to give to this community than this type of innovation, culture, and cultural and gathering space.”

Artist rendering of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture

The three-level, dynamic facility will be a first-of-its-kind cultural and community landmark. Early programming focus areas will include Black culture, history, innovation and leadership development, mental wellness, arts, and youth STEAM engagement.

In July, the Center partnered with the Children’s Theater of Madison to host The Wiz Experience, including three performing arts workshops for Black youth led by Dana Pellebon, the director of theatrical programming at The Center. Additionally, The Center will host a Black Artists Expo on Dec. 2 to promote Black creative expression within visual arts. The Center’s director of visual arts, Annik Dupaty, will lead this event.

“In the next year and a half, we’re actually going to begin Center programming in spaces in South Madison including our auditorium … the meeting room – so that people become accustomed to coming here for cultural gatherings, cultural inspiration, innovation,” Gee says. 

“Once we have raised the $3 million and we break ground in spring we’re not going to sit back on our laurels and wait until like 2025 to get programming,” Gee adds. “We’re beginning programming already for the Center because we know we’re going to raise that $3 million.”

Artist rendering of the auditorium at The Center for Black Excellence and Culture

The Center has a new $450,000 match campaign running through Dec. 31. Every dollar donated between now and the end of the year will be matched dollar for dollar up to $450,000. Community members can donate here.

Gee says that they are now on the cusp of achieving “a holistic, cultural home that will fundamentally redefine how Black community members are able to come together, celebrate, dream, and succeed.”

“I think that there’s a recognition that for many people that with some of the disparities and because of COVID and other glaring data, there’s a realization that the sense of isolation accelerates illnesses. I think people put two and two together and they’ve realized that perhaps some of the disconnect and isolation for Black people and the lack of cultural celebrations contribute to the wellness gap,” Gee says. “And this means that we are saying to the Black community, not only do we want you here, we want you to feel like you belong, and we want you to be healthy and well. 

“And for me, when you have opportunity and when the broader community supports a vision like this, it means the chance to address the issue of disparities in a very meaningful way.”