HARWICH — A proposal to establish a Cape Verdean Exhibit/Cultural Center, potentially in the Harwich Middle School, received strong support from selectmen Monday night.
The proposal was put forward by Barbara Burgo and Jane Teixeira-Henry. Burgo worked as one of the curators in collaboration with the Harwich Historical Society in hosting So Sabi, a Cape Verdean exhibit at Brooks Academy in 2012.
“During this amazing summer of historical, cultural and culinary delights, many residents and visitors to the exhibit – young and old, from near and far, multilingual and multicultural – expressed their positive opinion that this should become a 'permanent' exhibit for Harwich,” the proponents stated in a letter to selectmen.
They praised Harwich as being the town on Cape Cod with one of the richest collections of Cape Verdean artifacts, photos and culture that they have come across and said it has long been a dream to accomplish this goal. Burgo pointed out the town already recognizes her great aunt Bernice Lopes, a Gold Star mother, for the service of her son, Clifford Lopes, a WWII hero and her cousin. She cited the memorial honoring Lopes at the intersection of Main Street and Great Western Road.
Burgo said they voiced the proposal to students and teachers during presentations at Monomoy Regional High School and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School as a members of the Harwich Historical Society's education outreach team.
“They too have offered to assist in making this project a reality, if the town sees this is a worthwhile venture,” she said.
The proponents have been trying to locate an appropriate venue for the dozens of artifacts they have been collecting for more than 20 years both here in America and during several trips to the Cape Verde islands. Burgo, a cultural anthropologist, has made several trips to the islands.
Teixeira-Henry was born, raised and educated in Harwich. But she has had worldly experience, working for the United Nation Bureau of Technical Assistance Section for the Middle East and Africa. During her time in Washington, D. C. during the late 1960s and 1970s, she worked as a press aide for U. S. Senator Harrison Williams of New Jersey and for Michigan Congressman Charles Diggs.
In 1974, she was the first staff person hired on the newly formed U.S. House of Representatives budget committee, which eventually led to her becoming staff administrator for six budget committee chairpersons. She also was a 10-year docent at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, where she was recognized on its Wall of Honor. Teixeira-Henry was also a volunteer at the Cape Verde Embassy.
Several residents had informed them of plans to convert the middle school into a mixed-use arts center and suggested that it would serve nicely as a Cape Verdean Exhibit/Cultural Center. Other venues in Harwich may also exist and be appropriate for this purpose, she said.
“We come before you to request approval of space to house the Cape Verdean Cultural Center at the middle school building on Sisson Road or any other suitable location. This will continue the successful 2012 Cape Verdean exhibit held at Brooks Academy Museum,” Teixeira-Henry said.
The proponents cited the contributions of the Cape Verdean community to the town, citing Lopes, the blind musician Paul Pena, a singer and songwriter who wrote the song “Jet Airliner,” a major hit for the Steve Miller Band. He was also an accomplished Tuvan throat singer.
Teixeira-Henry cited the contributions of her family, including the Raneo side; the late John Raneo served as police chief for many years. Former town highway surveyors Henry and Albert Raneo were also cited. Praise was also extended to Raneo's daughter, Monomoy Regional High School teacher Angela Chilaka.
“There's so much richness here in Harwich,” Burgo said. “We want to show the pride and heritage you have here in Harwich.”
Burgo spoke of the Cape Verdean programs they have put on in the schools over the past several years. History teacher Richard Houston called those programs “very empowering for all the students. Having something permanent would say something to the students about the community,” he said. There was additional support from the audience.
“I am confident that this wonderful opportunity, which celebrates Harwich's uniqueness, would be a win-win for the entire community as well as Cape Cod,” Burgo said.
Selectman Angelo LaMantia wanted to know how much space was needed.
“The whole school,” Teixeira-Henry quipped.
It was suggested a cultural center would require a little more space than the Brooks Academy Museum provided for the 2012 exhibit. Selectmen voiced strong support for the Cape Verdean Cultural Center and recommended they meet with Town Administrator Christopher Clark and Community Center Director Carolyn Carey to work through the details, including whether a fee would be charged and whether the town might need to provide additional insurance coverage for the artifacts that would be located in the center.
LaMantia also cautioned that the use of the building for artist studios and an exhibition facility is under a two year trial period, and there is no clear direction for the future.
“I'm 100 percent behind it. It's great for the community,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said.