Heritage Salon Spotlight: Tina Burnside & Coventry Cowens

Tina Burnside (left) and Coventry Cowens (right)       
Photo Credit: Minneapolis Star Tribune 

Two African American women have answered the call to bring more exposure to African American history in Minnesota. The boldness of these ladies to preserve the history and tell the story of African Americans in Minnesota has created a museum and gallery. I found myself inspired after learning about how they began, their determination and perseverance. With future plans to open a free standing museum, read more about working with no paid staff, the challenges they face and how you can help.

What sparked the interest in starting an African American museum?
Coventry Cowens had been involved in a previous effort to start a museum, which unfortunately had some challenges. She continued to pursue the dream of opening a museum, and met Tina Burnside who had been writing about African American history in Minnesota and was hosting a “History Harvest” where local residents bring personal artifacts and tell their stories as a way of preserving history. Coventry asked Tina if she was interested in starting a museum, and they joined forces to start the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery.

How long did the process take for you all to create the museum?
The process took about a year. We opened the museum in September 2018.

What are some of the most challenging obstacles you face with the museum?
Like all organizations, fundraising is a challenge. 

How many staff members does the museum have?  The museum does not have any staff. The museum is an all-volunteer run organization with no paid staff, but we have a great team of volunteers who assist with running the museum. The museum is open five days a week for 4 hours each day. We also have a Children’s Reading Circle on Saturdays to promote literacy.

I read the roles that you both have and it has to be quite a bit handling all the roles you all carry.  Who handles installing the exhibitions?  In addition to being a co-founder, Tina is also the curator and creates and installs the exhibitions.

How many objects are in the collections of museum?  As a new museum, we have a small collection and are very selective about our collections due to space, storage and resources.

What are the upcoming exhibitions, programs or lectures that you would like the public to know?
We currently have four exhibitions on display: “Keep on Rollin'” which is about the history of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota which just celebrated its 20th anniversary and is named after African American world cycling champion Major Taylor. “Black Twin Cities: Photographs from the 1940s by John Glanton.” “History Harvest: The Exhibition” which is about the African American community on the Northside of Minneapolis, and “Unbreakable: Celebrating the Resilience of African Americans in Minnesota” which tells the history of African Americans in the state from the 1800s to 1950s.

How can someone support the museum?
People can support the museum by making a financial donation to the museum online on our website at: www.maahmg.org. They can also send a donation by mail to: Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, P.O. Box 19344, Minneapolis, MN 55419. The museum is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.

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