Bookmark and Share

Linking the arts together
How the Museum of African American Art is helping out

<br />  
<div class=

Why The Museum is Special
Staff member Byron Jamerson discusses what makes MAAA so unique.
Renovating parks, renovating Crenshaw
Members of the Crenshaw community are hoping to restore the Leslie N. Shaw Park, and residents talk about their hopes for the park.
Earlez Grille: LA's best hot dogs for over 25 years relocates
After over 20 years of serving the Crenshaw area, the popular hot dog joint, Earlez Grille, will be relocating due to the start of construction on the Crenshaw/LAX Expo line.
The house that changed a community
How the South Seas House transformed from a vandalized afterthought to a pristine community center in the West Adams District.

By Amy Lopez

For almost forty years, the Museum of African American Art of Los Angeles has been providing the low-income environment that is the Crenshaw area with a cultural experience... and from a very interesting location.

MAAA resides on the third floor of a “fully operational” Macy’s, that is part of a larger Baldwin Hills Crenshaw plaza on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and Crenshaw Boulevard.

Visitors can go shopping and take care of their materialistic desires while also fulfilling their cultural and artistic education in the same location. Although the museum is on the third floor of the store and shares its space with the home and appliance department, there is still something beneficial about the location for both the Macy’s store that provides the nearly 10,000 square-feet of space to the museum and those that work at MAAA.

"There’s a win-win for both of us,” said Berlinda Fontenot-Jamerson, president of the museum, “you really can’t come into the museum without buying something from Macy’s as you go up each floor to reach us.”

The Museum of African American Art was created in 1976 by a group of leaders who thought it would be great to give this location a sense of culture when it comes to African-American history.

One of the major collections at the museum includes the works of the late Palmer C. Hayden, who was well-known for his paintings of African-American man John Henry (the museum has all the originals) but most famous for the painting, “Midsummer Night in Harlem,” which MAAA acquired after the Smithsonian declined it.

And while MAAA and its officials make it a point to have all of the works of art be of Afro-centric, directors like Fontenot-Jamerson says they welcome artists from all parts of the globe.

“We work well with those in the Hispanic community as well as Caucasian artists,” she says, “we actually had people come from Veracruz, a city in Mexico, and bring us African-descent focused drawings because that is a location where many of slaves ran away to hundreds of years ago. So, we’re all connected in some way.”

This sense of community and “win-win” is a key principle to those that work in the museum, seeing as they are a non-profit organization and work together with other nonprofits to help the Crenshaw community revive arts and culture.

One of those organizations is Arts For LA. Though a relatively young organization, Arts For LA has been a crucial part of the museum’s current existence as well as a crucial help in promoting art around the Crenshaw area.

“One thing that we [Arts for LA] try to do is help people understand the impact of arts and culture in small communities like Crenshaw and also the larger LA County ecosystem,” said Charlie Jensen, communications manager at Arts for LA. “We’re a small group so it helps to not just have these other small groups to work with, but that are better at connecting with these underdeveloped areas than we are.”

A group that is as well known to the community and has been around almost as long as the Museum of African American Art is the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, a dance studio located a few blocks away along Crenshaw Boulevard. To those at the dance theatre, being integrated with different aspects of art is necessary in order to spark interests into the “ordinary citizen.”

“When you have collaboration with organizations, it’s a very positive thing,” said Lula Washington-Miller, associate director at the dance theatre, “We have been fortunate enough to be on display in their events gallery and we love buying paintings from them to show off in our studios.”

Helping other organizations is a fundamental part of MAAA. So much so that some of the officials working there do not see the museum as its name brands them, but more of gallery that is always looking to highlight local artists as much as it can.

“We don’t just take in world-renowned artists, we also have featured local artists--artists that for the first time have been exhibited,” said Byron Jamerson, staff member at the museum, “three out of four times we are working with local artists and we promote them.”

The opportunity to have more local artists show their work looks optimistic not just in the city of Crenshaw, but all throughout Los Angeles, with the new LA Mural Ordinance adopted by City Council that was just passed in November.

“To be able to paint a mural again would be great for me,” said Moses Ball, who redid the mural ‘Black Seeds’ along Jefferson Boulevard at Leslie N. Shaw Park, “this new ordinance is really going to reignite those artists that want to contribute to LA’s art.”

Art is an evergreen that never gets old, and for those like Jamerson at the Museum of African American Arts, it is just another way of enlightening society.

“Art is a part of all cultures; it’s a part of life. And for those with the talent to create it, it is their chance to tell a story.”

Haywood Galbreathe | The Museum of African American Art has featured many painters, but also welcomes other kinds of artists like photojournalists.

Moses Ball discusses how he was chosen to recreate the mural along Jefferson Boulevard.

Andre Tyson talks about his time at the Lula Washington Dance Theatre and the importance of art.