When the Africa Center announced a broad mission, a while back, to explore the continent through programming devoted to culture, business and public policy, it looked far-fetch but today, the organization is taking steps to fulfill that goal.
The center said that plans call for finishing construction of its 70,000-square-foot space, located on the first three floors of a condominium building near 110th Street and Fifth Avenue at the northern end of Manhattan’s Museum Mile. The center has already occupied a portion of the space for the past several months and has offered a number of events and presentations during that time.
The construction project and some programmatic initiatives will be funded with a $50 million capital campaign, officials said. The target date for completing construction is the fall of 2021, officials added.
The capital campaign has been jump-started with a $20 million contribution from the Aliko Dangote Foundation.
Aliko Dangote is a Nigerian businessman and investor. According to Forbes, he has a current net worth of $9.2 billion, making him the richest man in Africa.
Center officials called his gift one of the largest-known donations of its kind by an African philanthropist to a U.S. nonprofit organization.
Halima Dangote, Mr. Dangote’s daughter and a trustee of the Dangote Foundation, said the gift is being made with the hope that the center can “foster a greater understanding of Africa” with its diverse programming. Ms. Dangote is also president of the Africa Center’s board.
In addition to the gift from the Dangote Foundation, the center has received $5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, officials said.
The center is being designed with as much flexibility as possible, officials said. While spaces will allow for everything from forums on current events to concerts and art shows, the idea isn’t to create fixed galleries, as is the case with most museums.
The flexible design is also intended to make the center feel inviting, particularly to the nearby Harlem community, officials said.
“We wanted to create a space where everyone is welcome. You don’t feel straitjacketed,” said Uzodinma Iweala, a writer, filmmaker and medical doctor who has served as the center’s chief executive officer since last year. Mr. Iweala is the author of “Beasts of No Nation,” the 2005 novel that was made into a film a decade later.
The center’s programming is being aimed to create a new narrative around Africa that goes beyond the stories of political strife and economic hardship that often define the continent, Mr. Iweala added.
In the past year, the center has hosted book talks and readings with African authors, conducted workshops devoted to the traditional West African art of painting on glass and held a community dialogue on gender-based violence, xenophobia and other subjects.
The center was previously known as the Museum for African Art, with a history going back to 1984. Over the years, the museum had homes in different parts of the city, including spaces in SoHo and Long Island City.
The museum broadened its mission in 2013 and changed its name as a result. At the same time, it talked up plans to fully develop and settle into its new home at the space on 110th Street and Fifth Avenue by 2015.