Caribbean Cultural Center Finds a Permanent Home in Harlem

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Seph Rodney (Hyperallergic) reports that the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute just reopened in a landmark building that was once a firehouse at 120 East 125th Street, in the heart of East Harlem. Founded by Marta Moreno Vega (see above), the institute’s opening exhibition, “Home, Memory, and Future,” will continue through March 2017. Here are excerpts:

[. . .] This part of the East Harlem district is the epicenter of several storms: the drop-off point for the newly released from Riker’s Island, two major methadone clinics, a retail outlet for the infamous drug K2, and a couple of liquor stores and dollar pizza joints to keep it all glued together. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that, on some days, this square of land looks post-apocalyptic. For years now, as I’ve taken the train from the South Bronx to this intersection to trade the subway for buses heading west across town, every single trip makes me despondent.

Into these desperate circumstance steps the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI), which just reopened on October 15 in a landmark building that was once a firehouse at 120 East 125th Street, right in between the atria and ventricles of this territory. The Institute is an organization that, in the words of founder Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, was created “to make African descendants visible, part of history, and [make us] dynamic participants in the creative process of our existence, to make us visible and highlight our people’s brilliance since systemic racism has portrayed us in the deficit.”

CCCADI was formed by Vega in 1976 on East 87th Street, in a space donated by the now defunct Phelps Stokes Fund, and with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to fund Vega’s research. Over the years, Vega has steered CCCADI toward a multi-pronged approach to showcasing the arts associated with people from the African diaspora: musical programs including salsa, jazz, and rap (including showing hip-hop artists for the first time in Lincoln Center); colloquia for practitioners of religious and organized spiritual practices; and presenting visual art, which has entailed collaborating with other nearby institutions such as the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Much of this energy and vitality was on display during the opening weekend festivities. The events included the first art opening at the firehouse, for the exhibition Home, Memory, and Future, a concert and outdoor celebration, and a lecture series hosted at Positive Workforce focusing on the crosscultural, theatrical exchanges between African Diaspora communities in East and West Harlem since the turn of the 20th century. [. . .]

CCCADI is trying; it wants to be the cultural organization that anchors the neighborhood and prevents its drift into the powerful currents of either of the forces of cyclical poverty or the displacement of longtime residents by the gentrifying forces capital. One of CCCADI’s most ambitious programs, formed through a partnership with New York University’s Department of Art and Public Policy, is the ongoing series of conversational gatherings entitled “The Art of Justice.” These meetings are focused on establishing equity in the arts and are open to artists, arts administrators, and those who support the arts. The forums seek to address the distribution of public and private funds by considering how organizations come to be considered “ethnic” and “community-based,” and how these designations value or devalue the creative work of East Harlem communities and others like them around the city. The continuing work of the series is to establish a framework for arts funding and support that is inclusive and equitable. [. . .]

For full article, see http://hyperallergic.com/331389/a-caribbean-cultural-center-finds-a-permanent-home-in-harlem/

[Photo above by Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times: Marta Moreno Vega, founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute; source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/nyregion/from-expanded-home-celebrating-the-cultures-of-the-african-diaspora.html.]

Also see previous post—Artsy editorial by Tess Thackara at https://repeatingislands.com/2016/10/17/after-40-years-new-yorks-caribbean-cultural-center-finds-a-permanent-home-in-east-harlem/

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