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Towson University

The Great Blacks in Wax Museum shall not be moved

Since 1983 the Great Blacks in Wax Museum has established itself as one of Baltimore’s major community pillars. Not only has the museum provided those who visited with a host of information about Black history and culture, but also it has established itself as an outreach program for youth and adults.

Walking the halls of the administrative offices of the museum you find people who look just like those outside the walls of the museum. Perhaps that is what distinguishes this museum from so many others. It is managed and sustained by those that it seeks to help.

Museum president and C.E.O. Dr. Joanne Martin has no intention of leaving the neighborhood that has supported the museum for so long, despite the need for expansion. “We will remain in this neighborhood,” said Dr. Martin, “It was never our intention to leave. As we grow we want to help the neighborhood grow.”

This philosophy is a great one to have in terms of developing the community, but is the productivity of the museum affected? There is significant potential for the museum to do much better in different neighborhoods where most museums thrive. Downtown where tourists frequent would most likely bring in much more revenue than the schools and individuals that currently visit the museum.

According to Dr. Martin, the progress of the museum is directly connected to the progress of the neighborhood. “We came into this neighborhood as strangers, outsiders. We were embraced and trusted to do what was good for the community, so that is our obligation,” said Dr. Martin.

Chinara Degrosse, a member of the North Avenue community, feels that the ultimate goal of the museum should be to share this history with as many people as possible despite what it may do for her neighborhood. “People aren’t going to come all the way down here to look at Black history you have to take it to them. The museum should move someplace safer and closer to major tourist attractions.”

But Dr. Martin remains determined in her commitment to the development of the neighborhood. Recently the museum has added a life-size figure of Dr. Dorothy I. Heights and the four founders of the clothing label F.U.B.U. In addition to that the museum has recently purchased 48 properties.

In 2008 Dr. Joanne Martin is hoping to have completed an architectural plan that would allow the museum to encompass the entire 1600 block of North Avenue. This plan includes an expansion of the museum it self and the development of tourist-friendly establishments such as restaurants and a theater.

“There is this misconception that people have of poor neighborhoods where they think that they shouldn’t have nice things like museums. We have an obligation to defy that logic,” said Dr. Martin. Her attempts so far have been successful, but there is still a long way to go. As you walk the block that houses the museum you are still greeted with the harsh sights of boarded-up windows and dilapidated-abandoned houses. If Dr. Martin’s 2008 plan is successful than the entire face of the community will have changed.

“It’s important to include the people of the community in on the decisions that you make that will affect them. That’s the problem with allowing businesses into our communities they make these decisions that will affect the lives of many people and never give them a chance to feel apart of the process,” said Dr, Martin.

The museum has held various meetings with the community and its leaders to discuss the plans for expansion and community development. The main concern of everyone is to not let the museum wall in the community, so Dr. Martin hired architects to sketch drawings of a landscaping plan to present to the community at a meeting to show the effect that the expansion would have on the neighborhood. “There has been a drastic change in this community since we’ve been here, definitely,” said Dr. Martin. “We are bringing people to the community that would normally avoid this part of town. They are willing to drive past the boarded-up houses to experience what the museum has to offer.”

Dr. Martin sees great things for the future of this neighborhood. “I want this block to be like Harlem. In New York they wrote Harlem off as being a lost cause, but people went in and worked hard to make it a distinguished neighborhood again. I want that to happen here.”

The current expansion project for the museum will require nearly $50 million. The museum has already raised $10 million. Dr. Martin is not the only one who is looking forward to positive change in the community. “We will continue to work hand in hand with the community to grow and make the neighborhood an even better place,” said Dr. Martin.

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