A Struggling London Cultural Center Tries to Reconcile Its Past and Its Future Financial Times

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July 15, 2011; Source: Financial Times | Since it was first established in 1961 “the Africa Centre was a place where anyone could eat, drink, dance, read and talk all things Africa under one (increasingly leaky) roof.”  As an endorsement second to none, the story points out that Archbishop Desmond Tutu refers to the Africa Centre as “a home from home.” News earlier in the year that the organization’s board of trustees was planning to sell the building has produced an opposition movement supported by arts and business leaders for whom the building has become a “kind of symbol of Africa in the wider world.”

According to the story, board members who support the sale believe that preserving the center’s building would be prohibitively expensive and as such relocating and creating an endowment fund would be preferable options. Graeme Jennings, a consultant who has worked with the board to find alternative space, described the potential new headquarters as smaller but “big enough to host a book launch or corporate seminar, but not a concert or a club.

The group working against the building sale has about 3,000 names on a petition along with the support of many internationally famous people including Archbishop Tutu and David Adjaye, the Ghanaian British architect. Adjaye told the Financial Times, “The centre has the history and it would be a shame not to reinvent it for another generation. It has lasted through the most difficult times.” He added: “Now there is an affluent African class that can support it. This is the moment we should be galvanising that support, not giving up.”

The opposition group has received a six-week “stay of execution” during which it is charged with coming up with millions of pounds for renovation and a new organizational financing plan. As an added note, the  story suggests that the board of this organization, described as “oligarchic,” might also benefit from new governance structures.—Anne Eigeman