Founded in 1976, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) is opening a new cultural center. (all images courtesy CCCADI)

The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI), the multidisciplinary institution in New York City founded nearly five decades ago, just signed a 49-year lease for a new cultural center in East Harlem. To be located at 201 East 125th Street near its longtime home, the physical site will provide the organization an additional 5,000 square feet to further its mission of bringing together members of the African diaspora through art, music, and community.

“Expanding CCCADI’s presence in an ever-changing Harlem furthers our commitment to serving as an anchor for, and reflection of, the people of Harlem, particularly African descendants, and the promise that states that we are here and here to stay,” Melody Capote, executive director of CCADI, said in a statement.

The new location has the intended purpose of hosting the Institute for Racial and Social Justice in Arts and Culture, which has rapidly grown in recent years. With an alumni network of 240 artists and cultural workers — a little under half of which was added in the last two years — CCCADI felt the need to enlist a space up to the task of sustaining the institute’s growth. Its vision is for the new center to offer artists a hub to collaborate, create, perform, and affirm their roots and diverse cultural expressions.” It will also include a larger presentation space to bring together the local community and visitors alike.

The site will be part of One East Harlem, a mixed-use, 19-story development which will include 300 “affordable” apartments and 100 market-rate units, in addition to 65,000 square feet of commercial space. CCCADI will share the building with other cultural organizations, including Groove With Me, a youth development dance center. Its developers and landlords include the Richman Group, Bridges Development, Monadnock Development, Hope Community, and El Barrio Operation Fightback. Several of these groups are focused on affordable housing projects, and both Hope Community and El Barrio Operation Fightback are community-based nonprofits. 

Executive Director Melody Capote joined CCCADI in 1984.

One East Harlem resulted from the East 125th Street Development Project, pushed ahead under former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and sometimes met with criticism. Lawyers at the nonprofit Legal Aid Society expressed concern that above-market units in the development would further gentrify and displace locals from their homes. The demographics of Harlem as a whole have been steadily undergoing dramatic change: Census data released last year showed that the neighborhood gained more than 18,000 white residents and lost thousands of Black and Hispanic residents over the last decade. Hyperallergic has contacted One East Harlem for additional information on the building’s mixed-use units and their affordability for local residents.

CCCADI’s permanent home is located just one block away from the new center at the firehouse on East 125th Street, which the organization acquired for $1 when the city decommissioned five firehouses throughout the city and repurposed them for cultural centers. After years of renovation totaling $9.3 million that CCCADI raised from the government, private foundations, and individual donors, it opened its doors in 2016. 

Reflecting on the organization’s choice to settle in a neighborhood that has been roiled by gentrification, overpolicing, and disinvestment, Hyperallergic Senior Critic Seph Rodney wrote at the time that “by reopening here, it is making the claim that a cultural organization is part of a community’s infrastructure, sustaining it by providing a space for vital representation of its audiences and its cultural history.” With the announcement of its new space, CCCADI continues to stake this claim.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.