James Baldwin’s French Home Could Become an Artist Colony

By Yessenia Funes Sep 09, 2016

The home where James Baldwin spent his final 17 years before his death in 1987 is poised to carry on his legacy. Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is working with Franco-American nonprofit His Place in Provence to turn the St-Paul de Vence, France, house into an artist colony.

Yesterday (September 8), Gates and the organization—which was created specifically to “acquire and renovate the former home of James Baldwin in St-Paul de Vence and convert it into a residence for artists and writers”—announced a campaign to raise $11.2 million. The group hopes to use the funds to purchase the house and its 10 surrounding acres via a public-private partnership with U.S.-based philanthropists and the French Ministry of Culture. The money will also be used to renovate the house, rejuvenate the garden and establish a permanent endowment.

The property is currently slated to be converted into 18 luxury condos. His Place in Provence is petitioning the ministry “to seize the property on the grounds that historical preservation laws were blatantly violated," according to its website. The group alleges that the current owner has illegally destroyed the spaces where Baldwin lived and wrote, despite the property’s historical protection via L’Architecte des Bâtiments de France. The room where the celebrated writer died is still intact.

“This effort will take advantage of the best of both cultures,” Shannon Cain, an American writer living in Paris who is coordinating the project, said in a statement emailed to Colorlines. “In the U.S., we have a tradition of private charity and philanthropy, and in France we have a tradition of public support for artistic, cultural and historical monuments, known as the patrimoine.”

“It was Jimmy’s wish that his place some day become an artist colony,” Gates, who chairs the organization’s honorary fundraising board, said in the same release. Baldwin was known for welcoming visitors into his home, and the halls have seen the likes of Nina Simone, Josephine Baker and Ray Charles. “By many accounts he wanted creative people to continue gathering there after he was gone.”

The organization plans to begin major fundraising in early 2017, and it is gathering an advisory council that will feature “prominent Black scholars, writers and activists.” In the meantime, you can can sign up to become a member for anywhere from $0 to $5,000; funds will be used to cover start-up costs.