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Zoo-Museum District Board Member Exploring Tax Dollars For African-American Institutions

Courtesy of Portfolio Gallery

A member of the St. Louis Zoo-Museum District board is reviving the prospect of a new subdistrict of black arts organizations.

An amendment to House Bill 186, passed by the Missouri legislature in 2005, allows the creation of the African American History Museum and Cultural District. But adding it to the ZMD would have to be approved by popular vote — and an election can cost  up to $1 million — so the issue has languished for nine years.

ZMD board member Robert Powell — who also owns the Portfolio Gallery & Art Center in Grand Center — hopes the money can be raised with help from other institutions, which would like to become subdistricts. These include the St. Louis Symphony and the Transportation Museum in west St. Louis County.

Powell told St. Louis Public Radio he wants to begin talking with these organizations as soon as they’re willing.

“I’m trying to build a coalition or see if a coalition exists that would go forward with seeking membership,” Powell said.

Past attempts to add the Symphony to the ZMD have been unsuccessful. Currently, the ZMD subdistricts are the St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis Zoo and St. Louis Science Center. The district funnels $70 million to these institutions every year.

A ballot measure would increase the amount of tax paid by residents of St. Louis and St. Louis County to fund additional organizations, Powell said. For struggling black arts organizations, the stakes are extremely high, according to Powell.

Powell speculated that member organizations of a new subdistrict might include the Black Rep, the Griot museum and some members of the Alliance of Black Art Galleries.

“Without tax support, the black cultural organizations will probably fall,” Powell said. 

The ZMD board gave Powell approval to begin meeting with organizations seeking to join the district, but as an individual and not a ZMD representative. At Powell’s request, the board also discussed ways in which Powell’s gallery ownership might constitute a conflict of interest later in the process.

Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio
At the meeting Monday, Powell (right) presented his idea for an expanded Zoo-Museum District.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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