Laurie Cumbo was appointed cultural affairs commissioner for the City of New York by Mayor Eric Adams in March 2022. Cumbo previously served as Majority Leader in the New York City Council, where she represented the Council’s 35th district for eight years and championed equitable support for New York’s cultural community. Prior to the Council, Cumbo founded MoCADA in Brooklyn and worked at the Metropolitan Museum, High Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
What do you wish more people understood about the tourism and hospitality industry?
Tourism is a five borough industry, and there are cultural attractions in every corner of NYC. I love a Broadway show as much as anyone, but the Bronx Museum, Louis Armstrong House, Snug Harbor, Weeksville, and National Black Theater are all extraordinary places, too. Our partners at NYC & Company do an amazing job of spreading the word about opportunities to explore culture across the city. There are no better ambassadors for New York than New Yorkers, so let’s all celebrate the local places we love so that others can find them — and spend some money there — too.
How is the industry recovering after the pandemic?
Our arts community was profoundly damaged by the pandemic. The sorts of live engagements that our cultural sector thrives on and that makes it so essential to NYC vanished overnight, and they’re still struggling to return. So my priority as commissioner, and my mandate from the Mayor, is to be laser focused on helping our cultural sector recover. Just before I started, the Mayor released the “Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent” blueprint for NYC’s economic recovery, and culture is front and center. To start, we’re investing $5M in our cultural nonprofits so they can continue to serve New Yorkers and attract visitors.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve ever taken, or the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
When I was studying abroad in college, I saw an incredible performance of Aida at the Cairo Opera House in Egypt. Soon after I returned home to New York, I went to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Aida — with my mother as one of the performers. She was a tour guide at Lincoln Center and they cast her as a super in Aida. She’s been performing in it for over 20 years now.
What is one tourist destination that all visitors should add to their itinerary?
The African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan. It’s a peaceful, contemplative site, remarkably sheltered from the bustle of the city around it. Next to the outdoor monument, the National Parks Service operates a small visitor center. Across the street in Foley Square, the towering Triumph of the Human Spirit by Dr. Lorenzo Pace is a tall stone fountain. It’s a public artwork commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs intended to commemorate and converse with the African Burial Ground. Together, they’re powerful reminders of the contributions of Africans dating back to NYC’s earliest days, and how our city was built.