It’s a small and intimate space, but one that represents an enormous achievement and far-reaching implications—and it’s a project that has been some nine years in the making. “We are here, in El Barrio, can you hear me Harlem?” Nyoka Acevedo, a board member, called out to a packed crowd just hours after the institution’s ribbon-cutting, which was attended by New York City’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Tom Finkelpearl, the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, and numerous other officials who have helped to secure a permanent home for the institution, and to amass $9.3 million (a combination of tax-payer money and individual donations) for its renovation. “Here we stand, in our home, in Harlem, in this landmark building, one of the few institutions of color to have a landmark building in the city.”
The significance of the moment was not lost on anyone in the room. The arrival of CCCADI in Harlem marks the end of the institution’s odyssey through three different spaces, beginning in a building in the East 80s in 1976, before moving to 58th and 9th, and now East Harlem. “The process has been a difficult one,” the institution’s firebrand founder and former El Museo director Dr. Marta Moreno-Vega, who is Afro-Puerto Rican, said over the phone a week before the opening. Difficult, she explained, “because having people invest in an idea that addresses the articulation of a vision that is anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and pro-African and African Diaspora cultures, is one that even for our own is not always embraced. The whole notion that you’re building an institution to a vision of liberation is one that is hard to grasp, and we were fortunate to get people who understood and invested in different ways, and now we’re here.”Since its founding, the institution has been as much a locus for activism, and a meeting ground for people of African descent from around the globe, as it has been a platform for art. Lowery Stokes Sims, a former museum director and longtime advocate for artists of color, who has co-curated the CCCADI’s inaugural show “Home, Memory, and Future,” recalls the institution’s early days, when Dr. Moreno-Vega had just conceived the space. “I met a very global group of people there,” says Sims, “and we’re talking in the ’70s and ’80s before globalization became a widespread notion. It was Southern black people, Caribbean black people, African black people, Latin American black people, who came together for commonalities.