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The Mastermind Behind MoCADA

Laurie Cumbo founded an innovative art museum in Fort Greene.

A decade has passed since Laurie Cumbo founded MoCADA, the first museum dedicated to contemporary art by people of African descent in Brooklyn.

Cumbo, who grew up in Fort Greene and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, was inspired to start MoCADA (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) after years spent admiring her neighborhood’s eclectic surroundings, from the old “Spike’s Joint” — run by the director Spike Lee — store on DeKalb Avenue, to running through Fort Greene Park with her friends after school.

Fort Greene, as well as her passion to create a space for young people of color to shine, provided the spark behind MoCADA. So Cumbo founded the museum fresh out of NYU with the help of family, friends, community activists and politicians in 1999.

“Brooklyn has one of the largest populations of people of African descent outside of Africa and it is only logical that such a significant population of people have a museum that preserves, documents, protects and celebrates their culture,” said Cumbo.

Today, MoCADA’s is on Hanson Place between S. Portland Avenue and S. Elliot Place after several years in a small gallery space run out of a day-care center in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Over the years the museum has featured works from renowned artists like Danny Simmons and Chester Higgins Jr., as well as local players like Dread Scott. It has also tackled contemporary issues through exhibitions on police brutality, abortion, capital punishment, and most recently, last year.

Still challenged by what she feels is the need to communicate the value of art to the world, Cumbo’s mission remains the same.

“MoCADA has demonstrated the value and importance of cultural diversity,” she said. “What America has and so many other countries do not is the richness of our cultural diversity. If we could only utilize the full potential of this diversity in community development and creation, we would truly be the greatest country in the world.”

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