Featuring: NYFA Hall of Fame Honoree Peggy Cooper Cafritz

Featuring: NYFA Hall of Fame Honoree Peggy Cooper Cafritz

Cooper Cafritz will be honored at our Hall of Fame Benefit on April 4, 2017

Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Patron of the Arts and former president of the District of Columbia Board of Education, began collecting art as a law student. She’s known for championing contemporary and emerging African American artists, with The New York Times describing her collection as “a mash-up of the best of what you might find in a group show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, PS1, and the Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea.” 

Her dual passions for art and education led her to co-found the Duke Ellington School of the Arts with Mike Malone, which today is one of the premiere arts high schools in the country. Several years later she chaired the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and in 1993 was appointed by President Clinton to serve as Vice Chair of the President’s Committee in the Arts and Humanities. 

Cooper Cafritz served as co-chair of the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Equity Committee that led efforts to bring greater racial and cultural diversity to the Smithsonian’s professional ranks, exhibitions, and educational programs. This Smithsonian cohort identified a need to hire a founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian, which spurred the more rapid development of this and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Cooper Cafritz has advocated for arts and education repeatedly throughout her professional and personal life. She served on the Executive Committee of the D.C. Board of Higher Education, which merged three institutions to create the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), for which she was a member of the board of trustees. Cooper Cafritz left this position to take office as the first citywide, publicly-elected president of the District of Columbia Board of Education. 

Prior to her work in education and following law school, Cooper Cafritz worked as a programming executive and documentary producer for Post-Newsweek Stations and WTOP-TV (now WUSA), earning both Emmy and Peabody Awards for her documentary work. Cooper Cafritz also served as Executive Director of the Minority Cultural Project, a joint venture between Harry Belafonte and WQED/Pittsburgh to develop a dramatic literary series for the Public Broadcasting Corporation. For 14 years Cooper Cafritz appeared as an arts critic on WETA-TV’s “Around Town,” for which she also received an Emmy Award.

Cooper Cafritz’s extensive public service has continued through the decades. Today she serves on the National Advisory Board of the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. She has also maintained a commitment to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where she serves the school and its nonprofit fundraising affiliate, the Ellington Fund. Cooper Cafritz is also a member of the executive committee of the governing board of the school. 

A single mother, Cooper Cafritz raised two sons, now 25 and 32, and a daughter, 36, in addition to a number of teenaged foster children and countless godchildren. Each year she gives college scholarships to three Duke Ellington School of the Arts students in honor of her children.

Cooper Cafritz has been a Washington, D.C., resident since 1964. She attended the George Washington University, earning an undergraduate degree in political science in 1968 and a law degree in 1971.

Her fellow honorees are NYFA affiliated artists Christopher d’Amboise (Fellow in Choreography ‘89), Ida Applebroog (Fellow in Graphics ‘86, Painting ‘90), and Lynn Nottage (Fellow in Playwriting/Screenwriting ‘94 & ‘00). Stay tuned for our next post on Lynn Nottage, and find out more about NYFA’s Hall of Fame Benefit by clicking here.

Image: Courtesy Peggy Cooper Cafritz

Amy Aronoff
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