Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Welcome to the New Africa Center in New York

A new cultural institution is being created in New York City: the Africa Center, at the northern tip of Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue.
Originally, New York had the Museum for African Art; its first location was in Soho. In 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced a plan to relocate the museum to Museum Mile at 110th Street in Manhattan; during construction, the museum was moved to Long Island City in Queens. For several years, information about the new venue was scarce.
Susan Mullin Vogel founded the Museum for African Art in 1984. The institution showed very high-caliber exhibitions, including exhibitions that were shown in various museums around the United States; it had a wonderful museum store (managed for some years by Vickie Fremont, whom we have also written about in this blog); my spouse, Epee Ellong, had participated in events about African culture and design.
The project for the space at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue was enormously ambitious. In October 2012, Phil Conte joined the museum as Chief Financial Officer. Previously, Phil Conte was involved in several financial turnarounds at nonprofit organizations such as the Museum of the Moving Image, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Georgia Aquarium.
After a year of media silence, there was an article describing a party involving Mo Ibrahim, Bill Clinton and other well-known figures to launch the New Africa Center. I emailed the new organization and Phil Conte responded. He explained that the entire paradigm of the organization had changed, and that the new entity was still a work in progress.
In his words, "We are looking to the future. The Museum for African Art is being expanded to become the Africa Center, to better embrace all facets of the continent. The Center will still be about the art--both traditional and contemporary. Art will always be at the heart of the institution. However, we will incorporate more art forms, such as dance and music; and most importantly, we are planning two additions to the Center's offerings: a business forum, and a policy forum, to broaden the horizons of the Center and increase its reach."
The new Center is slated to open in 2016. In the meantime, in September, there was an open house, with African vendors, a hanging multicolored spherical piece of art named "Citoyen du Monde" (World Citizen), by Meschac Gaba (South Africa); a yellow Volkswagen bus named "Lagos State of Mind II" (Emeka Ogboh), small scale models of the Center, live music, men on stilts, and a photography booth "in the style of Malick Sidibé," a Malian photographer renowned in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s for his black and white portraits. It was all great fun, and children were treated to face-painting; there was also an "Egyptian jewelry" workshop.
Another year and a half to go--and we hope that New Yorkers will be able to enjoy the new Africa Center in a daily basis.



Photography in the style of Malick Sidibé
Lagos State of Mind II by Emeka Ogboh
Clothing vendor Wow Wow
Poster to promote the new Harlem Eat Up festival