Amid opposition, Laurie Cumbo named New York's cultural czar

Laurie Cumbo , who was named commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs last week by Mayor Eric Adams, worked as an intern at th...


Laurie Cumbo, who was named commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs last week by Mayor Eric Adams, worked as an intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when she was 15. She then founded the African Diaspora Museum of Contemporary Arts in 1999, in a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. And when she was a member of the city council, she sat on its cultural affairs committee.

She has also caused offense over the years. In 2013, following attacks on Jewish residents in Brooklyn, she wrote that many African-American and Caribbean residents feared being “evicted by their Jewish owners.” And in 2015, she came under fire after asking why the New York City Housing Authority was moving so many Asian Americans into public housing in Brooklyn. (She apologized in both incidents.) More recently, she has offended immigration advocates by opposing a bill that would allow non-citizens to vote.

Now, as Ms Cumbo takes over as head of the cultural affairs department at a delicate time – with the arts sector still struggling to emerge from the pandemic and her predecessor in the department warn that the agency is in trouble – people on the ground are evaluating her background and trying to assess what kind of leader she will be.

“At the bare minimum, our city deserves a cultural leader who is deeply respectful of the origins and perspectives that enrich our world,” said Reynold Levy, former Lincoln Center president and nonprofit expert. “Does Laurie Cumbo pass these simple and elementary tests?

Asked about some of her past statements, Ms Cumbo replied in an email that she had “spent my professional life building coalitions”.

“I strongly believe in the democratic process, the beauty and solidarity of New York’s rich and diverse communities, and the power of art and open dialogue to help bring us together,” she wrote. “As Commissioner, I will continue to work, learn and grow with the communities I have dedicated my life to serving.

Mayor Adams said Ms Cumbo “brings a wealth of experience in the arts, community advocacy and municipal administration to her role as commissioner”. in the press release announcing his appointment.

Ms. Cumbo, for her part, pledged to “focus on laser to help our city’s cultural sector and non-profit cultural organizations recover from the effects of the pandemic.”

“Our arts community,” she said in the email, “and especially arts groups of color, have been deeply damaged by the pandemic.”

A former City Council Majority Leader, Ms. Cumbo, who grew up in Brooklyn, earned a degree in art history from Spelman College and a master’s degree in visual arts administration from New York University. She has taught in the Arts and Culture Management program at Pratt Institute and has worked at the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. The Museum of Contemporary African Arts of the Diaspora, or MoCADAbuilt a new home on Ashland Place.

“Every moment of my life,” Ms Cumbo said in a statement this month, “has led me to this incredible opportunity.”

“Together, we will center the arts on New York’s economic recovery,” she added, “and strengthen the educational and cultural experiences of every New York student.”

But in a job where diplomacy has traditionally been important, Ms Cumbo’s past divisions could complicate her role. When the news site The city signaled earlier this month that his appointment was imminentits headline was: “Laurie Cumbo, Adams supporter criticized for cultural insensitivity, set to lead cultural affairs agency.”

Upon her nomination, several critics took to Twitter to voice their objections, including Hit the road to New Yorkan immigrant advocacy group, and city council member Shahana Hanif, who noted that Ms. Cumbo “has a history of racially insensitive and anti-Semitic slurs” and that “I don’t think she’s right to run the city government”.

Ms Cumbo said in an email that she recognized “the vulnerability that exists especially for communities of color when we are divided”.

“An approach grounded in broad solidarity has always been particularly important to the BIPOC communities I have represented, which have been deeply affected and devastated by centuries of colonialism, slavery and racism,” she wrote. .

After Mrs. Cumbo apologized in 2013 for her statement about Jewish landlordsEvan R. Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York, issued a statement which read: “We welcome Ms. Cumbo’s apology and her acknowledgment that her remarks about the Jewish community evoked classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and as such were deeply offensive.

Last December, Ms Cumbo opposed the bill allowing non-citizens to vote, which the mayor approved in January.

Ms Cumbo wondered if the bill would dilute the voting power of African Americans. “This particular legislation is going to dramatically change the power dynamics in New York City,” she said at the time, an argument that was criticized as “dividing” by Tiffany Cab├ín, a new Queens councilwoman.

When news broke this year that Ms Cumbo was in line for the Cultural Affairs post, Politics reported that immigration advocates — including members of the mayor’s transition committee on arts and culture — had raised their concerns with city hall officials.

Committee member Luis Miranda, a political consultant and father of Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, was among them. Luis Miranda, whose concerns were first reported by Politicohas been said at the time that she believed she was not suited for the cultural affairs position after her comments on the bill, according to someone who knows his thoughts.

On the Council, where she represented Brooklyn’s 35th District, Ms. Cumbo also supported progressive causes, including raising the minimum wage to $15, pay equity, domestic violence services, family leave policy and the prevention of armed violence. Culturally, she worked to increase the budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs and other arts programs.

She also helped rescue Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, which is the historic site of a village established by New York blacks after the state abolished slavery in 1827.

“Laurie has been a passionate champion of the arts her entire professional life – from founding MoCADA to supporting the arts as a board member,” said Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak. “She has been a supporter of institutions large and small. She is a creative problem solver. And I know she’s a bridge builder — you should see her in a crowd in Crown Heights where she’s built trusting and supportive relationships with Orthodox rabbis and black leaders.

Susana Torruella Leval, former director of El Museo del Barrio, said she had followed Ms Cumbo since she set up MoCADA. “It was a modest place but she did extremely ambitious and very beautiful shows,” she said. “She has excellent qualifications for the job.”

Some arts officials say the Department of Cultural Affairs – which was allocated $145.2 million in the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2023 – has been overstretched, leaving projects stalled.

Cumbo’s predecessor, Gonzalo Casalswho resigned from his post in December 2021, warned in a Tweeter this month that “if the city does not make significant investments in @NYCulture by increasing staff and salaries, the agency could collapse very soon.

Asked to respond to the tweet, Ryan Max, a spokesperson for the department, said: “We are confident that we can manage the agency’s programs with current staff,” adding that the agency “is focused on appealing ” of four vacancies.

The agency “has been pulled in too many directions and received multiple mandates from city council and the mayor,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank. on public policy, “while trying to maintain its core functions of maintaining the city’s cultural initiatives.

Zachary Small contributed reporting.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Amid opposition, Laurie Cumbo named New York's cultural czar
Amid opposition, Laurie Cumbo named New York's cultural czar
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