Historic Clinton Church Restoration receives $117,000 in new funding

The funds will be used to help complete architectural and engineering plans for the African American cultural heritage center the nonprofit is creating in the deconsecrated church in downtown Great Barrington.

May 18, 2022 : The Berkshire Edge, by Terry Cowgill

GREAT BARRINGTON — Clinton Church Restoration (CCR), the nonprofit working to restore the Great Barrington church that bears its name, has been awarded a $117,000 capital grant from MassDevelopment and the Mass Cultural Council, part of a round of Cultural Facilities Fund grants that were announced yesterday.

In a written statement, CCR said the funds will be used to help complete architectural and engineering plans for the African American cultural heritage center the nonprofit is creating in the deconsecrated church in downtown Great Barrington.

This is the project’s second award from the fund, “whose planning and capital grants provide investments in cultural facilities throughout the commonwealth,” said CCR’s Interim Executive Director Eugenie Sills.

“It’s wonderful to see this funding from the Cultural Facilities Fund,” added Dan Bolognani, executive director of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area and ex officio member of the Clinton Church Restoration board. “Their impact on the cultural scene in the Berkshires cannot be overstated and we are honored to have their support in developing a unique new center that will expand the region’s cultural offerings.”

According to Sills, the Cultural Facilities Fund grant is one of six the project has received in as many months. In March, the American Historical Association provided a $75,000 grant to CCR to support a one-year historian-in-residence position, research assistant, and public history programming.

CCR was one of 50 organizations to receive the AHA-NEH Grant to Sustain and Advance the Work of Historical Organizations, a program made possible with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“Thanks to the support of a diverse group of funders, Clinton Church Restoration is not only making progress on the development of a vibrant downtown visitor center with museum-quality exhibits and programming, we are planning a series of engaging programs that will begin this summer and continue into next year,” Sills said.

The lineup has not yet been announced but Sills said it includes roundtable discussions, tours of African American historic sites, music and more.

Last fall, Mass Humanities awarded CCR a $20,000 Expanding Massachusetts Stories grant for interpretive exhibit design. The monies will support further development of exhibits that educate the public about the life and legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, the community that formed and maintained the historic Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church, and the rich African American heritage of the Berkshires.

The Clinton Church’s early congregation was said to have been a formative influence in the life of Du Bois, the legendary scholar and civil rights leader who returned to Great Barrington to speak in the shingle-style building in 1894. As a child and young man, Du Bois attended services across Main Street at the First Congregational Church.

Located at 9 Elm Court, the former church served as the spiritual, cultural, and political hub of African American life in the southern Berkshire community for nearly 130 years before closing in 2014.

“There is a much-needed reckoning with history unfolding in our nation, and these grants represent our investment in that movement,” said Mass Humanities Executive Director Brian Boyles when the grants, made possible by Mass Cultural Council, were announced. “We believe that every resident should see their stories and the stories of their ancestors as valued parts of the Massachusetts story.” Boyles and his team visited the former church in November.

Clinton Church Restoration has also received a $15,000 grant from the Town of Great Barrington’s Community Impact Funding program for development of its tours of African American heritage sites in town. The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area (known as Housatonic Heritage), and First Church Outreach, an initiative of the First Congregational Church in Williamstown, have provided critical capacity building support, Sills explained.

For a handy guide to Clinton Church’s past efforts, see “It’s Not That Simple: What’s happening with the Clinton Church Restoration?” It’s a biweekly Edge column by Ed Abrahams and Pedro Pechano (co-chair of the CCR building committee) on town issues and is based on their show on WSBS radio. Click here to listen to the WSBS podcast. Sills was the guest.