The Africa Center
The Africa Center, formerly known as Museum for African Art, is a museum located at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street in East Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, near the northern end of Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile. Founded in 1984, the museum is "dedicated to increasing public understanding and appreciation of African art and culture." The Museum is also well known for its public education programs that help raise awareness of African culture, and also operates a unique store selling authentic handmade African crafts.
The Museum has organized nearly 60 critically acclaimed exhibitions and traveled these to almost 140 venues nationally and internationally, including 15 other countries. Forty of these exhibitions are accompanied by scholarly catalogues.
The Africa Center was formerly located in the neighborhood of Long Island City in Queens, New York City, United States. Begun as the Center for African Art, the Museum for African Art's founding director was Susan Mullin Vogel, who had previously worked as Associate Curator in the Department of Primitive Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During her time at the Museum for African Art, Vogel curated and organized ground-breaking exhibitions which put into question ways in which African art is presented to Western audiences, and how museum practices structure knowledge for the public. The most well-known of these exhibitions are "Art/Artifact: African Art in Anthropology Collections" in 1988, "Exhibition-ism: Museums and African Art" in 1994, and "Africa Explores: 20th-Century African Art" in 1991.
In 2005, the museum was among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Africa Center closed its Queens location in the early 2010s. After several years of delayed openings, and the realization that the initial goal of a museum on Fifth Avenue was not sustainable, the decision was made to broaden the project's scope, and push back the opening to 2015. The new building would be on Museum Mile at the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 110th Street in East Harlem, Manhattan.
The new location, in a building designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, is the first museum building built on New York's Museum Mile since the completion of the Guggenheim in 1959. It was to serve as a cultural center, modeling itself after the Asia Society and other similar organizations. The new building was to make the museum accessible to a wide range of people from the world over, thus solidifying the museum's presence as one of the most challenging and diverse art institutions in the U.S. The new building would encompass approximately 90,000 square feet (8,400 m2) with 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) of exhibition space, as well as a theater, education center, library, classrooms, event space, restaurant and gift shop. The growth into the cultural center was spearheaded by, CEO Uzodinma Iweala and board members Chelsea Clinton, Halima Dangote, and Hadeel Ibrahim daughter of Mo Ibrahim.
While the outer-shell of the building was completed in 2010, critical interior build-out and occupation was delayed by stalled fundraising efforts and leadership transitions. In 2015, the Africa Center hired Michelle D. Gavin, former United States Ambassador to Botswana and an expert on Africa, as its Managing Director. Gavin left in late 2016. In the interim, the Africa Center was to present pop up events in its new space until the building is completed. In February 2019, Terenga, a West African fine dining restaurant, opened in the Africa Center space.
The Africa Center also hosts a Shared Studios Portal, which connects the center live and in real-time to communities around the world. The majority of their Portal connections are to sites on the African continent.
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