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A Steadying Force for the Africa Center Is Stepping Down

After guiding The Africa Center through rocky pandemic years and securing a huge chunk of funding for a major construction project, the leader of the Harlem institution is stepping down.

Uzodinma Iweala, who is in his seventh year as chief executive of the Africa Center, will depart at the end of 2024.

Iweala’s leadership helped to settle an institution with a tumultuous past of various mandates, locations and even names. It was formerly known as the Museum for African Art, which The New York Times’s co-chief art critic, Holland Cotter, called the “source of some of the most conceptually daring exhibitions of its era,” and before that, the Center for African Art. Faced with a delayed opening date during the pandemic, Iweala expanded its programming to include lectures and visits from heads of state, outdoor dance parties, films and author talks. All of it was aimed at connecting with the African diaspora and changing the way Americans interact with the African continent.

Iweala, who as a writer and medical doctor has a nontraditional background for an arts institution leader, said he planned to focus on new creative projects including finishing a book. His multifaceted background and personal history — he is Nigerian-American and has lived in Nigeria — were regarded by many in the arts community as a good fit for an institution trying to transform itself into more than a museum or gallery. In an interview last year, the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Thelma Golden called him “visionary.”

“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to build over the past few years, especially in a challenging environment,” Iweala said. “It’s the right time to leave for me and for the institution.”

Under Iweala, the Center has partnered with the Museum of Food and Drink on an exhibition as well as independent curators to offer “States of Becoming,” a 2022-23 exhibition that featured 17 African artists from the continent and diaspora. He partnered with the University of Cape Town to help organize a media index to track how Africa is covered in the media and created the Future Africa Forum that offered discussions with presidents, philanthropists and other leaders during the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

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