New York City has a new cultural czar as of last week when Mayor Eric Adams assigned Laurie Cumbo the title. But despite her mile long CV qualifying her for the role, many are opposing the appointment. As The New York Times reports, Cumbo has ruffled a few feathers in the past with her comments. In the wake of attacks on Jewish residents in 2013, the then councilwoman-elect cited “jewish success” in Brooklyn as one of the reasons for rising resentment among African Americans, fearing that that would be pushed out of their homes by Jewish landlords. She later apologized for the statement. More recently, Cumbo has come under fire for opposing a bill that would grant non citizens the right to vote.
As the arts sector of the Cultural Affairs department continues to fight its way out of struggles ignited by the pandemic, someone with Cumbo’s experience is needed more than ever. However, people have now begun to question her background, and her leadership capabilities.
“At a bare minimum, our town deserves a cultural leader deeply respectful of backgrounds and perspectives that enrich our world,” said Reynold Levy, the former president of Lincoln Center. “Does Laurie Cumbo meet these simple, elementary tests?”
Well, some have taken this as an opportunity to request an answer directly from Cumbo herself. When asked about her previous statements by The New York Times, she had this to say:
“I’m a big believer in the democratic process, and in the beauty and solidarity of New York’s rich, diverse communities, and in the power of art and open dialogue to help bring us together,” she responded via email. “As commissioner, I’ll continue working, learning, and growing with the communities I’ve dedicated my life to serving.”
In addition to her BA in art history from Spelman College, and her masters in visual arts administration from NYU, she’s also taught in the arts and cultural management program at Pratt Institute and worked at the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. And her servitude didn’t stop there. On the Council as the representative of Brooklyn’s 35th district, Cumbo fought for progressive causes such as raising the minimum wage to $15, domestic violence services, pay equity, family leave policy, and gun violence prevention.
“Every single moment in my life has led me to this incredible opportunity,” she said in a statement.
Although she has many opposers, her service to the city through the arts and beyond has earned her many allies as well.
“Laurie has been a passionate champion of the arts her entire professional life — from creating MoCADA to supporting the arts as a council member,” said Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum.
In the statement announcing her appointment, Mayor Eric Adams said that Ms. Cumbo “brings a breadth of experience in the arts, community advocacy and city government to her role as commissioner.”