CHARMAINE JEFFERSON resigns from the museum in L.A. to focus on an arts consulting business.
Her legacy is lauded
Departing head of the California African American Museum built its attendance.
BY MIKE BOEHM
When Charmaine Jefferson stepped down last week as executive director of the California African American Museum, she left amid praise for having greatly improved her museum’s position as it tries to build audiences, mount compelling exhibitions on black culture and history, and, perhaps eventually, launch the kind of major construction project that the nearby California Science Center and Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County have recently achieved.
“I walk away excited about what we’ve accomplished and that there’s still a future in front of me to test my wings on,” Jefferson said, who resigned after11years at the Exposition Park institution to focus on an arts consulting business.
Jefferson, 60, said the next step in her unusually varied career in arts, culture and entertainment will be to return to the private consulting work she’d done before being picked in 2003 to lead the state-owned African American Museum. She said that her consulting priorities will include helping cultural groups increase their audiences and advocating for more arts classes in the Los Angeles public schools.
Jefferson said that her achievements at the African American Museum included building its annual attendance to more than100,000.
Todd Hawkins, president of the African American Museum’s board, said, “We’re of course saddened, but we’re at a place we were not at 11 years ago when she arrived. We feel well-positioned for a future that can only expand on what she has done.”
Hawkins said the board, whose seven members all are gubernatorial appointees, will decide on an interim director, then begin a national search for Jefferson’s successor.
The African American Museum gets by on a budget of about $3.5 million a year. Admission is free. The state provides $2.5 million, augmented by funds from a private nonprofit museum foundation that in recent years has generated annual contributions and other revenues of $650,000 to $1.4 million.
Jefferson said one of her main objectives as museum director was to demonstrate that exhibitions focused on African American arts and history could be relevant to all races and ethnic groups. “I had an extraordinary opportunity to show how African Americans can be a voice for everybody,” she said.
Exhibitions included touring shows, such as the Smithsonian Institution’s retrospective on how the Apollo Theater in Harlem influenced the development of American entertainment, and solo exhibitions by Los Angeles artists Betye Saar and Mark Greenfield, whose show will open this fall.
Jefferson’s tenure included the preliminary planning for a major expansion and renovation of the museum, but the project has yet to gain a financial foothold and move forward.
“We have a plan in place, and it will happen,” Jefferson said. She also is confident that the museum’s annual allotment from the state eventually will improve with the California government’s brightening financial picture.
Hawkins credited Jefferson with raising the museum’s national profile by forging alliances with partners such as Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History, which sent a recently closed exhibition on the long-lasting marital and creative partnership of dancer-actors Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade .
One of Jefferson’s objectives as a consultant will be finding ways to restore arts education in Los Angeles public schools.
“I just believe the arts is part of our life every day,” Jefferson said.
“I want to fight for our children to have the same resources we had.”