Saying Goodbye to the Baldwin House

January 17, 2018

I did an interview with Nice Matin which ran today. Apart from misreporting about our art sale to benefit our welcome center* the article does justice to a sad situation.

(Headline: The Baldwin House in Saint-Paul will not be saved) 

 

I've seen this coming for a while, of course, but I’d held out hope that a philanthropist or two would step forward. And my hope was realized: early last month, a serious donor reached out, an individual in the public eye (who wants to, and shall, remain anonymous) standing ready to pledge many millions. I suggested he gather a group of colleagues who would share the honor of becoming founding donors, and he agreed. And then, after a few weeks of reflection, the group he was forming backed away, without explanation.

 

While this was a tremendous disappointment I was braced for it, given the history we've had with other potential donors since we began this work nearly two years ago. A pattern has emerged, a message within the silences: without the endorsement of the Baldwin estate, US philanthropists are not ready to step forward.

 

One breathes, one weeps, one moves on. James Baldwin’s spirit is alive and well in St. Paul de Vence, and our little nonprofit association has gathered too much steam to slow down now.

 

Ths week, more than 100 exceptional writers applied to become the Inaugural St Paul de Vence James Baldwin Writer in Residence. I am laid bare by these accomplished, original voices and feel the urgent need to support them as they make work that reflects the times we're struggling through. Selecting the top ten to send to final judge Cornelius Eady is proving an excruciating task.

 

Our association is trying out a new mission statement (what do you think?): Deploying the arts to remember James Baldwin in St. Paul de Vence. Our goal is nothing short of filling this little village with writers and artists working in the Baldwin spirit.  

 

"The role of the artist is to interrupt the peace," James Baldwin said. If "the peace" includes a luxury spa in the room where he died and a parking lot over the spot where his desk once stood, we figure that raising up artists is the best way to bring about the kind of radical interruption he envisioned.

 

The destruction of James Baldwin's house is an unmistakably definitive ending, a particularly brutal loss even within a history of brutally lost historically black spaces. Why then, does this concession, this acceptance of defeat, feel like such a beginning? Why does it feel like this struggle may in the end result in a success bigger than I'd imagined? I take my cues from my literary and activist hero, a writer named Jimmy, who although he had every reason to despair and despair he did, he also conceded, as I do, that all right, okay, I'm here, I'm alive, so yes, of course, yes: I'm still optimistic.

 

 

 

*the suggestion that we were wide-eyed enough to believe we could raise a few million Euros for a "partnership with the developer" via a sale of work by local artists is frustrating to say the least, especially since we were clear from the outset that those funds were designated to support our welcome center, not to purchase the house!

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