With approved construction contracts in-hand and a more than $90 million fundraising goal reached, the International African American Museum has started work at its future site in downtown Charleston.
The lot between Concord Street and Charleston Harbor is surrounded by fencing, and trailers and some construction vehicles were set up there Monday.
Museum officials have said an official groundbreaking ceremony will likely be held in October, but site work has already begun, Bobby Teachey, a manager with contractor Turner Brownstone, told IAAM board members at their Friday meeting.
Soon, a webcam will be streaming footage of the museum site, he said.
So far, more than 2,200 donors have given a collective $92 million toward the creation of the museum, said former Charleston mayor and project founder Joe Riley. But Riley announced at Friday's meeting that another, much smaller goal would be set.
He wants to raise another $4.265 million to go toward the creation of the museum, primarily in case the cost of creating exhibits and furnishing the building is more than anticipated.
That's what happened before the initial construction phase: The museum reached its original fundraising goal of $75 million about a year ago, but, because of increasing costs for construction — including the price of steel — that target was reset.
Including funds for the museum's endowment, project organizers have now raised more than $100 million, Riley said.
Several large donations have been announced this year, most recently a $1 million pledge from the city of North Charleston which, with a unanimous city council vote last week, became the first city other than Charleston to make a major donation to the IAAM.
Dominion Energy and BP also announced donations of $2.5 million and $1 million, respectively, this summer.
IAAM leaders and staff discussed the organization's transition from plans to actual construction at Friday's meeting, including fundraising updates, staffing changes and revenue goals for next year.
The meeting, which was open to the public, was also attended by Citizens Want Excellence at IAAM, a group of community members who have called for changes in the museum's content and design and in the ways the organization interfaces with the community.
The group feels community members like themselves haven't had a voice in the planning of the museum. Riley and other IAAM officials maintain that the museum's creation has been driven by community participation.
Filling about two rows of chairs at the meeting, the group wore red tape across their mouths and silently held up signs with messages like "Don't trivialize my history" and what has become the group's slogan, "Not about us, without us."
The concerned community members called a meeting last month, a day before City Council was scheduled to approve construction contracts for the museum. They had hoped to delay the approval, but council unanimously OK'd the contracts.
Representatives from Citizens Want Excellence also met with IAAM leaders in June to discuss their concerns.
In a reference to that meeting, IAAM board member Melissa Lindler proposed Friday that the board form a statewide advisory committee to "re-engage the community" in the museum's creation process. She suggested holding a listening session in Charleston within the next month to gather feedback before moving forward with the formation of a committee.
Lindler, who is the director of the city of Columbia's Office of Business Opportunities, volunteered to act as a liaison between the committee, which would work with communities statewide, and the museum board.
Citizens Want Excellence member Gwen Robinson said she found the idea of a listening session "encouraging," but said she has heard positive comments from museum officials before and seen little change.
"Once we're in brick and mortar, that's it," Robinson said Friday.
The museum is expected to open in 2021.
One of the key players leading the IAAM to that opening will be Bernice Chu, a museum professional who specializes in getting new museums off the ground.
Chu most recently served as founding director at the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will oversee planning and operations for the IAAM throughout its construction and for at least six months after its opening. She will officially join the museum next month.
In the coming months, the museum will also be looking to fill its head role of president and chief executive.
Earlier this month, Michael Boulware Moore, the first and only CEO of the museum, stepped down from the post after announcing in June that he would return to work in the private sector. Board member and College of Charleston professor emeritus Bernard Powers has stepped in as interim CEO.
A committee from the museum board will decide how the nonprofit goes about finding Moore's replacement. Powers has said they will be looking for candidates with professional museum experience.