CULVER CITY — The fate of the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum now rests in the hands of the Culver City Council, which will conduct a community meeting next month to get input from residents and other community stakeholders.
The library and museum, which houses a two million-piece collection African-American rare books, films, artifacts and artworks, is looking for a new home after being evicted from the former Culver City Courthouse last month by Los Angles County. Museum officials have been meeting with officials from the Wende Museum of the Cold War about the two entities sharing a building on Culver Boulevard that used to house the American Veterans office.
That building, at 10858 Culver Blvd., is adjacent to The Wende and has been vacant for a year.
A community meeting regarding the matter is scheduled to take place at the Culver City Senior Center on Sept. 24. At that time, the community will have an opportunity to weigh-in on the issue, according to Todd Tipton, Culver City’s redevelopment administrator. He noted that there “may be” competing interests in the property.
City Councilman Alex Fisch said the partnership between the Wende and the Clayton Library and Museum is “promising” and although he supports the collaboration, which would keep the Clayton collection in Culver City, it was not a done deal because he too believes there may be other people interested in the lot.
“The lot is public land for public use, which is a very rare opportunity,” Fisch said. “Since it’s city-owned land, we have a lot of authority. The way it will unfold is that we will first have the community meeting and then we will send out a request for proposal.”
The request for proposal process could take up to three months.
Fisch, who previously came out publicly in favor of the Clayton Library and Museum staying in Culver City, said he recognizes that the public property could also be used for public housing.
“Any time public property is discussed, we as public officials should always consider putting below-market housing in that space,” he said. “I personally would feel I was betraying people who need help with housing if I didn’t do so.”
That being said, Fisch said his hope is that everyone can be served.
“I’m a ‘yes end’ kind of guy,” Fisch said. “I want both. I want to keep the Mayme Clayton Museum in Culver City. If we can’t keep our African-American cultural institutions here, how are we going to keep African Americans here. I think it’s possible to go higher than one-story on that lot and put some apartments there as well. Affordable housing is important to me. I think we can get both done because both are important.”
The latest development in the Clayton Library and Museum saga began in June when former neighbors the Wende and the Clayton Library signed a formal strategic partnership agreement to share space in a proposed Creative Community Center where the two entities would provide cultural and educational programming and social services to the community.
The vision for the center is to have multiple independent organizations working together, sharing resources and each providing programs and services, according to Wende Museum Executive Director Justin Jampol.
“It was a perfect opportunity to formalize a partnership between the Wende and MCLM,” Jampol said. “This is a robust partnership. What we have is a memorandum of understanding.
“If the proposal is supported by the City Council, we will deploy the resources to immediately renovate and [the Clayton Library and Museum] would have full access to present exhibitions and programs.”
Jampol said the arrangement would empower the Clayton collection to have a permanent presence in Culver City.
“We are a charitable organization that provides services to the community,” Jampol said. “We are facilitating this to give [the Clayton collection] a home.”
“We have a history of working together with the Wende,” said Steven Fisher, a board member of the Clayton Library and Museum. “When we heard about the vision for the Creative Community Center, we were ecstatic. Working together and pooling resources to provide a greater public benefit while also demonstrating the value of arts and cultural collaborations as a model is a win-win.”
Since Wende became neighbors with the Clayton Library and Museum, they have partnered on several events and programs including a walking tour of the Culver City Cultural Corridor, a panel discussion on racism in Culver City’s history, and a jazz night presented by Clayton Library as part of the Music at the Wende free concert series.
The Clayton Library collection, including its signed copy of “Poems on Various Subjects” by Phillis Wheatley, an ex-slave who was the first African-American woman to be published in 1773, will not be stored in the Creative Community Center. The collection is currently stored at West Los Angeles College while officials continue to look for a permanent home.
Cal State Dominguez Hills is another possible permanent home for the collection.
For years, the Clayton Library and Museum was housed in the old Culver City Courthouse. But the county, which owns the courthouse property, evicted the museum earlier this year. The museum had originally leased the courthouse for $1 a year in 2006, but had not paid rent since then.
The Wende, located in a renovated National Guard Armory, is a cultural laboratory that pairs unparalleled collections from the Cold War era with contemporary artists, filmmakers, musicians, scholars and others to create something new and informative. Most of its collection is stored in a warehouse in El Monte, according to Jampol, a Los Angeles native who founded the museum in 2002.
When either organization has scheduled exhibits, Jampol said they will each retrieve their respective pieces for display.
While awaiting approval, the Wende has already raised nearly $4 million through its donors to renovate the abandoned property. Funding for the project came from nonprofit conglomerates that include the Ahmanson Foundation, Parsons Foundation, Keck Foundation, Glorya Kaufman and individual donors, which includes Wende Museum board members.
“Justin got a little bit ahead of us,” Fisch said. “He has done an impressive job organizing his donors and working with Mayme Clayton and the neighborhood.”
“It would be a big blow to have [the Clayton collection] gone,” Jampol said. “I couldn’t sleep at night if I didn’t do everything to keep them here. I’m hopeful.”
Mayme Clayton was a librarian, collector and a historian who amassed the collection over 40 years.
She believed preserving and sharing African-American history was imperative for current and future generations.