More than a year ago, it seemed unlikely that Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, would remain. The house, which had fallen into disrepair, was put up for sale, and there was uncertainty about its future. But then four artists—Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, and Adam Pendleton—bound together and acquired the home for $95,000.
Now the house has undergone yet another major change, as the National Historical Trust has chosen to designate the site a “National Treasure,” with plans to preserve the home in collaboration with the community of Tryon as well as the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission and the World Monuments Fund. The organizations will work together to conduct studies and develop a strategy for finding a new use for the house.
Simone was born and raised in the clapboard structure, which the artists who bought it came to see as a symbol for both the oppression she faced as a black woman in the American South and the success she was able to achieve from a young age as a talented musician. (Tryon was the town where Simone, who was born Eunice Waymon, taught herself how to play piano starting when she was three years old.) After the house began to fall apart, Kevin McIntyre, a former local county economic development director, bought the structure for $100,000 in 2005 with the intention of restoring it to its previous state. But McIntyre had trouble funding the project and the home hit the market in 2016.
The artists have described their decision to buy the house as both a political act and as something akin to an artwork. “We just hope we can activate this place,” Gallagher said in the New York Times report announcing the news last year. Speaking of Simone, Gallagher continued: “She formed a lot of who I am and my sense of history. And I think of the town as a portal to a woman who influenced so many.”