Students work towards remodeling former Excelsior High School

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

A building that once housed St. Augustine’s black high school is open to the public as the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, but its parking lot is empty.

The door appears locked and bolted. No patrons enter or exit. That may be about to change, though, with the help of a group of Flagler College students, who are making a new effort to fix up the museum and bring it to life with a new exhibit.

Eric Salvo, Rashaud Richardson and Christina von Claparède-Crola, all members of Enactus, are working to lead a team of students to, along with community leader Otis Mason, bring the museum, now open only select hours, to life.

It’s part of a larger partnership between Flagler College, the St. Augustine Community School for the Arts and Mason, who has been working to make the Lincolnville Museum a reality since 2006.

But the building, as of now, isn’t up to the city’s standards.

“If you go inside the building, it’s run down. Many things are out of code—the fire extinguisher, the bathrooms,” Richardson said. “We want to help restructure the building to make it presentable.”

The first step is to get the building up to code – it’s only then that the revitalization of the interior of the building can begin.

Fixing up and prominently displaying artifacts in the museum is another major priority. The museum has Ray Charles’ original piano from his years at the School for the Deaf and Blind, as well as the booking sheet from Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest in St. Augustine.

As of now, those artifacts are not well displayed, particularly Charles’ piano.

The museum’s other attractions, including an exhibit featuring former Chicago Bears player Willie Galimore, will continue to be displayed.

The museum will also feature a new exhibit and documentary, “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience,” which was produced and curated by the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Department.

The exhibit was first shown at the St. Augustine Visitors’ Center in 2014 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

The leaders of the project hope that the new exhibit, paired with the old, will reinforce St. Augustine’s place in history.

“What happened in St. Augustine was really significant and it should be heard nationwide—and globally,” Salvo said.

In addition to the museum, Enactus members hope to make the museum into a cultural center, with the help of the head of the St. Augustine School of the Arts.

The center would host everything from music classes to events to community meetings.

Both Richardson and von Claparède-Crola have an interest in music, which makes this part of the project special for them.

The museum and the cultural center will, in many ways, reinforce one other.

“We really want to tie in our exhibits with the cultural center,” von Claparède-Crola said. “We don’t want them to be separate entities.”

Although the members see the museum and cultural center being a major hub for the community when it’s completed, they are, for now, focusing on the first steps. A major one is getting the funding to get the building up to code.

That process will involve the whole team, especially when it comes to fundraising, writing grants and crowdfunding.

“We’re planning to make sure everyone is on board, that everyone has a vision. We want to come together and go through the process of ‘now we have to get money. We have to crowdfund. We have to find all these different ways to get money so we can get it into the museum to make it a really nice place to visit,” Salvo said.

The process is daunting, and the team is estimating that it will take three years to finish.

“This process is like rolling a huge boulder up a mountain and you keep flipping down a little bit,” von Claparède-Crola said.

But the reward is building what project leaders hope is a self-sustaining entity in an area of St. Augustine that has, at times, been overlooked.

It’s also an opportunity for the team to see a project come together from the ground up.

For Salvo, there’s also a sense of personal accomplishment, and a satisfaction with being part of something bigger.

“If I come back in another 20 years, I want to see that museum thriving and pushing boundaries,” Salvo said. “I really like being invested and maybe being able to come and see it in 20 years and say ‘I was a part of this. I made this happen.'”

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