What Happened to the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts?
In 1997, the year after her son was fatally shot in Las Vegas, Afeni Shakur launched the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which hosted an annual performing arts day camp for inner city youth in the Atlanta area. She was inspired by how the gifted rapper, actor and one-time dancer studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts — crucial since, back then, she was smoking crack cocaine. Over the years at the camp, Jasmine Guy taught acting; Junella Segura Cooper, who has worked with Mary J. Blige and Usher taught dance; Dina LaPolt, Shakur’s attorney for 12 years, explained what aspiring artists should know about copyright and intellectual property laws. On June 11, 2005, the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts opened as the foundation’s proper headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, down the street from the six-bedroom home Tupac bought for his mother.
What used to be a paint store became a dance studio, with Tupac’s platinum and gold records affixed to the walls. The former movie theater next door was gutted for renovation. Inside the six-acre peace garden of wooded trails was a seven-foot bronze statue of the slain rapper. He wore a suit as he did as a guardian angel in the “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” video, holding a copy of his 1999 poetry collection The Rose That Grew From Concrete, standing on a medieval cross-shaped pond.
That statue is gone. The property was bought in December and a 25-person crew of Shakur’s family members cleared the site of all memorabilia: the plaques, an old mixing board, leftover pairs of Makaveli jeans. But the bricks remain. To raise funds, patrons brought these bricks for up to $1,000 to have them laid at the pond, with their names — Eminem, Dr. Dre, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones — branded on them. LaPolt used to accompany Afeni Shakur to splashy premiere events, for works like MTV’s 2003 documentary Tupac: Resurrection, to promote the center.
“Whenever we had to go to these Oscars events or all this stuff, we would be armed with pamphlets on the center,” she says.
Yet the facility largely sustained itself off the efforts Shakur made to uphold her son’s legacy. The center cost $4 million to launch; according to LaPolt in a 2005 interview, 80 percent of that was funded by proceeds from Amaru Entertainment, the company Afeni Shakur founded to release Tupac’s posthumous work. With seven of his 11 platinum albums being posthumous releases, Tupac made money like he was still alive. In 2008, his estate made $15 million. Two years later, though, it was a quarter as much. By then, Tupac’s catalog of unreleased music had dwindled.
“There was a bunch of kids who went through there and really benefited from it,” says David Cohen, executive vice president of Interscope Records. “A lot of them went to college. It was doing great work on a shoestring. And a lot of the funding was actually provided by Afeni itself, out of her estate.”
Cohen joined the Shakur Foundation board shortly after the center’s launch. Years after Afeni Shakur obtained Tupac’s master recordings from Death Row Records, which had been distributed by Interscope, Cohen admired how she dreamed big. Still, he saw how the foundation never raised enough money to revamp the theater. “The building itself was a big mistake,” he says. Shakur resisted selling the property until last August, at $1.2 million, without ever officially announcing the center’s closing. On May 2nd, Shakur died in Sausalito, California, after deputies responded to a call at her houseboat.
“We’ve had discussions about it, and I’m sure that we’re going to do great,” says Afeni Shakur’s sister Gloria of the foundations. “But right now, I am really not that interested in where it goes. Right now my issue is that the person who started all of this was her son — he’s dead. My nephew, the only one that I had, is dead. Now my own sibling is dead. I’m not a visionary. All I’m dealing with is right now, right here.”
Jim Burnett, a retired real estate investor, wanted to buy the property for two years. He told his wife Faye as much whenever they drove past, despite well knowing that the location wasn’t ideal. Memorial Drive, which feeds into Interstate 285 and Highway 78, had its heyday as an industrial corridor back in the Eighties. When Burnett toured the property, the grass outside was five feet tall.
Like many tourists who have passed through in recent years, he also thought the property was abandoned. What he didn’t know was that Afeni Shakur felt as optimistic when she bought that space 14 years ago. She imagined a performing arts stage. A museum. A peace garden. An artists residency program.
Burnett bought the Stone Mountain property in December for $600,000. Initially, he and Faye wanted to turn the building into an adult community center, though they changed their minds once they met the Shakur family. While the dance studio has been converted to office suites, this retired couple will turn the theater into an indoor play center called Jumps R Us, and the peace garden into a water park.
“It works in perfect conjunction with what Afeni was doing with the kids,” Burnett says. “We were told that the baton had been passed. We’re not going to allow the Shakur name to die.”