Deeply rooted and nestled in the heart of Central East Austin lies a beacon, a shining jewel, indeed a community treasure. That treasure is the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. And the treasure within the treasure is Para LaNell Agboga, the museum’s site coordinator and theatre manager.
Agboga glowed with pride and joy when sharing the story of her 18 years and 10 months with Carver. What merely started as a job to pay her car note blossomed into a rewarding career. A dual theater and communications graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Agboga first learned of a job opportunity with the Carver via The Villager newspaper. Hired and mentored by Bernadette Phifer, the Carver’s recently retired curator, Agboga recounted how she came to be a privileged staff member of the historical George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
“When I came here I was fresh out of college and didn’t know anything really about museums except that I liked to go to them. But I found a wealth of information at the Carver, a lot of things that could happen, a lot of opportunity . . .” Agboga disclosed that early on after her first year as a program specialist, she actually bypassed a career opportunity in news with KXAN to continue with the Carver.
A collaborative space
Agboga says that beyond its lovely setting, “the museum offers so many things to so many people.” While the Carver is primarily dedicated to preserving African American culture, it serves as a host and home to Austin’s diverse community. Per Agboga, the Carver is the City of Austin’s most-requested rental space, particularly the Boyd Vance Theatre which seats 134.
The Carver has featured and hosted a multiplicity of cultural arts and people, including local, state, national, and international artists and dignitaries. On any given occasion, one might experience various cultural activities, including Tejano, Middle Eastern, Indian and other rich heritage programming or exhibits. Some of the Black heritage staple programs include the annual Juneteenth celebration and the Austin African American Book Festival. Interestingly, one of Agboga’s daughters is included in Carver’s Juneteenth exhibit. Currently, the gallery also features local artist Deborah Roberts and three other artists.
From ages 2-92, there’s something for you to do here at the Carver
Community engagement and collaboration are critical to Carver’s program development. The Carver works closely with The University of Texas, in addition to Huston-Tillotson University. While these collaborations are crucial, Agboga also stressed the need for more community volunteers.
A home place
“From ages 2-92, there’s something for you to do here at the Carver,” says Agboga. Agboga beamed when discussing the summer youth theater program, the Carver’s signature youth program. To honor our senior generation during the winter holiday season, the Carver hosts its annual Silver Bell Social with Jazz music presented by Pamela Hart and James Polk.
The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center is a historical, generational space, “a home place.” In Agboga’s words, the Carver is a “family-oriented facility.” Though families and even churches may move, a visit to the Carver is a homecoming. Agboga says, “I take it extremely seriously, because everything around here [East Austin] is changing.” She continues, “We really like to be an integral part of people’s lives.”
Agboga firmly believes that Carver is a bright precious jewel and a beacon — a comfortable, intimate space; a place where folks can “take their shoes off” and feel at home.
To become a Carver volunteer or learn more, contact the staff at 512-974-4926 or simply stop by the Carver at 1165 Angelina Street. The Carver website has information on upcoming programming.