Museum of African Diaspora Art eyes a permanent home in Atlanta
Museum of African Diaspora Art eyes a permanent home in Atlanta. The five-year fundraising effort kicks off next year at Pittsburgh Yards.
November 14th, 2023 – Atlanta Journal-Constitution Felicia Fester
Fahamu Pecou could easily have rested on his laurels.
The in-demand Atlanta artist known for his incisive, snarky paintings that celebrate Black identity and its roots in African traditions is gearing up for shows in Dallas, Paris and Atlanta’s Johnson Lowe Gallery in 2024.
His paintings have been shown at museums and galleries around the world and have popped up on the television shows “Blackish” and “The Chi.” This fall he was a guest curator at the Also Known As Africa (AKAA) Art Fair in Paris, where he debuted four new paintings at his gallery there, Backlash.
But despite a schedule filled with globe-trotting and painting to keep up with demand for his work, Pecou has launched a new museum — the African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta (ADAMA).
Currently a “museum without walls,” it has no physical space. ADAMA stages temporary exhibitions curated by local and international curators in a temporary space at Pittsburgh Yards in Southwest Atlanta and hosts salons featuring conversations with cultural leaders. It also has presented rotating engagements with other institutions like the High Museum, which collaborated with ADAMA for its Permanent Project series, activating works of art in the High’s collection via dance, film and music.
But in 2024, Pecou and ADAMA will take a significant step forward in transforming this virtual museum into a literal one by launching a five-year fundraising push starting with the Flowers x Seeds Gala honoring Atlanta artist and Spelman professor emeritus Arturo Lindsay on Feb. 16.
Pecou and Fleming are eyeing the Pittsburgh neighborhood in Atlanta’s Southwest corridor along the Beltline as the likely location for ADAMA. But first they will need to raise the projected $12 million required to buy the land and to design and build the space.
Born out of the desire “to see and experience some place in Atlanta that celebrated Black culture and art,” said Pecou, the museum’s mission is to spotlight contemporary artwork by artists of African descent from around the world.
“The beautiful thing, specifically for people of African descent, is understanding that we’re a global majority,” said Stephanie Fleming, ADAMA’s executive director, known in ADAMA’s vernacular as “interim village chief.”
Pecou’s inspiration for ADAMA come from his early, transformative experiences with Black culture at Atlanta’s National Black Arts Festival and a desire to make Black creativity the center of cultural experiences rather than an afterthought. Other inspirations include New York’s Studio Museum of Harlem and Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art in Brooklyn, founded by Spelman grad Laurie Cumbo.
“In lieu of constantly petitioning and pleading with spaces to make room for our voices, we can make our own spaces,” Pecou said.
The museum’s location is an integral part of the plan because “accessibility is key,” said Pecou. “For decades all of Atlanta’s arts and culture have primarily lived in and around Midtown. This presumes that everyone has equal access to that part of town, which is not always the case. By locating ADAMA in a historically Black neighborhood, we address this accessibility issue.”
The Pittsburgh Yards development has already hosted a number of ADAMA pop-up exhibitions and salons and will host its next exhibition opening Nov. 24, “ADAMA x The Galbreath Collection: 10 Years of Collecting Atlanta,” featuring Atlanta artist George Galbreath and his entrepreneur wife Esohe Galbreath’s collection of art from Black Atlanta artists. Fleming is currently looking for a sponsor to help fund multiple exhibitions in 2024 at Pittsburgh Yards, where ADAMA also has an office.
That Southwestern slice of the city is home to a nascent art scene with the Murphy Avenue corridor of galleries and artist spaces, as well as the year-old Black Art in America gallery, nearby.
Pecou’s vision for the ADAMA campus includes “indoor and outdoor activation spaces for exhibitions and programs, a library/cafe, office space, studios for our artist-in-residence program and a state-of-the-art facility for art conservation and training,” he said.
He wants an institution that affirms and lifts up adults as well as children, who don’t always see possibility when they grow up.
“I grew up poor in a small town in South Carolina. Most of what I saw and most of what I heard suggested that I would not make it to 25 years old. And because I didn’t see very much that suggested otherwise, I internalized that belief and spent a good portion of my youth anticipating my demise,” he said.
ADAMA’s global reach is deeply rooted in African traditions, which make it distinctly different from the European-style museum, which has historically targeted a white, affluent audience. Unlike most museums, ADAMA is not a collecting institution. And while many major museums are currently struggling to inject diversity into their audiences and staff, ADAMA has built-in diversity in its administration, board and curators. “We’re prioritizing our people, our village, above dollars or flashy real estate spaces,” said Fleming.
And its inception is rooted in the city Pecou calls home.
“I wasn’t born or raised in Atlanta, but Atlanta raised me,” he said. “Black visibility and mobility in Atlanta is like no other place I know.”
One of ADAMA’s distinguishing features is how intrinsically the vision of artists is a part of its DNA. Pecou and Fleming are both working artists who have the perspective of creatives rather than of museum administrators. In that way they are open to new ways of doing things.
Najee Dorsey, owner of Black Art in America, has faith that Pecou, with his deep connections and support in the art world, has what it takes to make ADAMA’s brick and mortar space a reality.
“He’s a tremendous artist and has a tremendous network,” said Dorsey. “He has a vision and has access — that coupled with support and funding, it would be a tremendous win.”
“ADAMA x The Galbreath Collection: 10 Years of Collecting Atlanta.” Nov. 24-Jan. 2. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday. Free. ADAMA at Nia Building at Pittsburgh Yards (enter from the lobby), 352 University Ave. SW, Atlanta. 404-481-3447, adamatl.org/galbreath-exhibition
“Flowers x Seeds Gala.” Feb. 16. For tickets or information, call 404-481-3447, email email@example.com or visit adamatl.org/flowersxseeds
All images – Courtney Gurlie/Ty Pleas – Pittsburgh Yards