Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

The Museum for African Art
on Broadway

Antelope crest mask from "Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali"

The Museum for African Art's temporary home
at 36-01 43rd Ave., Long Island City
African Museum on the Move
by Sara Henkin

The Museum for African Art is on the move. With its lease up at its SoHo facility (at 593 Broadway), the museum will be packing its bags this summer to take up temporary residence in Long Island City, Queens, with plans to build its own permanent home at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue by 2005. The museum hopes its relocation will enable it to better serve the African-American community whose cultures it represents, and to develop a permanent collection in a larger space. "We decided that if could have all of our wishes come true, we would move to the top of Museum Mile," said museum director Anne Stark.

The museum's current exhibition, "Bamana: The Art of Existence in Mali," closes at the SoHo space on July 28, 2002. The museum hopes to inaugurate its Queens facility in September with "Facing the Mask," a popular survey of more than 70 masks from across the African continent.

The MAA Queens address, 36-01 43rd Avenue, is a warehouse-type space that also temporarily houses the Isamu Noguchi Museum while its headquarters are renovated. The location is several blocks from MoMA QNS, which opens June 29 at 33rd Street and Queens Boulevard.

As for the new Fifth Avenue facility, the museum plans to launch a $50-million capital campaign to finance a six-story building. The site is part of a plot purchased from New York City by Edison Schools, the for-profit school management firm, for its a new headquarters complex. The terms of the museum's deal with Edison were not disclosed, though the museum says that its plans are unaffected by Edison's precarious financial condition, which has recently been in the news.

In any case, Edison's headquarters and the new Museum for African Art, both of which are slated for completion in 2005, together comprise the largest private economic development project in Harlem's history, and are expected to generate about $38 million in wages and hundreds of jobs.

Edison and the museum also hope to work together on providing art education as part of the curriculum in a new elementary school that will be part of Edison's new 14-story building. "Education is an essential part of our mission and strategy," Stark said. "To have school children on-site is a great thing for us. We are trying to collaborate, and make African art part of the curriculum."

In addition to increasing its educational activities, the Museum for African Art plans to develop a permanent collection -- something the cramped SoHo space never permitted. The museum currently owns 70 works, and its exhibitions have been built around objects lent by other institutions and private collectors. Creating a strong permanent collection is part of the museum's goal of increasing its visibility among New York's many visual arts organizations.

The museum's board hopes that all Harlem residents will feel that they have better access to the museum once it moves to Upper Manhattan. The museum currently works with the Harlem YMCA and Stark said that she plans to develop partnerships with other community-based organizations as well.

The Museum for African Art, which will increase its space with the move to Long Island City, also aims to raise its attendance levels in the years preceding the move to Harlem. "To be in close proximity to other cultural institutions will be excellent for audience outreach and partnerships, and we can thrive in an arts community," Stark said.

SARA HENKIN writes about the arts and business.