Former Brooklyn-based City Councilmember and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo has been named Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs by Mayor Eric Adams.
As the new commissioner of cultural affairs, Cumbo will have oversight of the largest cultural budget in the United States, directing cultural policy for the city and overseeing city funding for hundreds of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations across the five boroughs. Cumbo will also advise on strategies for supporting and strengthening the City’s cultural community.
Adams said Cumbo brought a breadth of experience in the arts, community advocacy, and city government to her role as commissioner, and would be instrumental in leading efforts to strengthen the city’s vibrant cultural life.
“As we work to revitalize our city, the Department of Cultural Affairs will play a vital role in our economic recovery — expanding access to the arts for outer-borough children and providing increased support for local artists,” Adams added.
During her time as a City Council member, Cumbo secured permanent cultural homes for the Noel Pointer Foundation, Ifetayo Cultural Arts Center, the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, African Voices Magazine, Creative Outlet Dance Company, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), 651 Arts, the Brooklyn Music School, The Brooklyn Pride Center and Digital Girl, Adams said.
Prior to politics, Cumbo founded MoCADA in Brooklyn and previously worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the High Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
Cumbo, a lifelong Brooklynite, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History from Spelman College and a Master of Arts degree in Visual Arts Administration from New York University.
Of her new role, Cumbo said: “Every single moment in my life — from my first internship at the age of fifteen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and founding Brooklyn’s first Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, to teaching at Pratt Institute and serving on the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations as a New York City councilmember — has led me to this incredible opportunity to further serve the city as the Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs.”
“Together, we will center the arts in New York’s economic recovery and bolster the educational and cultural experiences of every New York City student from Pre-K to CUNY.”
She added that she also saw arts as a way to address public safety issues in New York City — “taking a gun out of the hands of a young person and replacing it with an instrument, paintbrush, camera, or script will redirect the talent and passions of our youth towards building a better and more vibrant New York City.”
Numerous arts groups and leaders across the city applauded Cumbo's new position, including Charlotte Cohen, the executive director of Brooklyn Arts Council, who said in politics Cumbo was "a champion of arts and culture for all New Yorkers from within city government."
“She is also trained in arts administration and, as founder of such an important museum, MoCADA, has a deep understanding of the workings of nonprofit cultural organizations, as well as artists’ experiences and needs," Cohen said.
"With her keen understanding of the importance of arts in people’s lives, to our economic vitality, and to our mental and social well-being, Commissioner Cumbo will be an incredible partner and advocate and leader for our sector.”
However, Cumbo’s appointment hasn’t been without controversy, with Natalia Aristizabal, deputy director of immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York, saying she was disappointed with the appointment, which she said was an example of Adams installing “intolerant political loyalists instead of listening to our communities.” The issue stems from Cumbo’s stance against non-citizen voting, which she said would dilute the power of Black voters, The City reports.