This past week, our entire museum family was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Peggy Cooper Cafriz. A prominent leader in the arts and the local Washington, D.C., community, the many tributes to Cafritz have referred to her as a grande dame, a mentor, and a benefactor. All are true—but, above all, at the National Museum of African Art, Peggy Cooper Cafritz was known as a friend.
Since she was a teenager, Cafritz has been an activist for civil rights and racial justice. As one of the first black students at George Washington University, she challenged the school’s de facto segregation and started its first Black Student Union. Cafritz later focused on promoting the arts and education, becoming one of the most prominent supporters of D.C.-based arts organizations and of artists around the world. In 1974, she cofounded DCPS’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, which has produced and continues to nurture many of D.C.’s luminaries.
Despite hardship and great loss after Cafritz’s home and world-class art collection burned down in 2009, the passionate art lover once again built up one of the most important private collections of African, African American, and Afro-Caribbean art. Her unflagging support of emerging artists of color has developed and launched the careers of some of today’s most important artists. Cafritz’s support of this museum, in particular, has been vital to promoting our mission of inspiring conversations about the beauty, power, and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide.
Peggy Cooper Cafritz will be missed by many, especially here at the National Museum of African Art, but we know her incredible legacy will live on through her advocacy and support of the arts.