Jefferson Steps Down From CAAM

She Will Continue Her Strong Advocacy for the Arts

Eric Hanks

Charmaine Jefferson. Photo: KCET TVOn July 18, 2014, Charmaine Jefferson stepped down as executive director of the California African American Museum (CAAM). After 11 years of exemplary service she decided to return full time to private consulting work through her company, Kelan Resources.  Among other things, she’ll provide advice to organizations and institutions and advocate for arts programs in public schools.

When Charmaine Jefferson became executive director in 2003, CAAM was on the brink of extinction. Rumors abounded that the State of California (the chief funder of the museum) was planning to permanently close the institution that began in 1981 in a small office in the California Museum of Science and Industry.  Even though that didn’t happen, its budget was reduced by 50 percent, the state imposed a hiring freeze and its staff shrunk by 50%, and the hours the museum was open to the public were dramatically reduced.  The museum’s foundation, a private, non-profit organization not affiliated with the state, was moribund and bereft of staff.

After three years, Jefferson had reversed the negative trend.  State funding was slowly restored, staff levels gradually increased, the museum galleries and lobby area were renovated, the foundation had four staff members and the museum’s budget more than doubled.  

California African American MuseumFor the last few years the museum has put on an average of 12 exhibitions per year. Attendance is up.  And there are more educational and cultural programs than ever.    

Jefferson believes that the museum, in its mission  to preserve, collect and interpret African American art and culture, benefits people of all cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds.  

Among the museum’s numerous exhibitions, a few stand out as ones Jefferson is  particularly proud of.  For example, Places of Validation featured the work of over 90  African American artists with an LA connection such as David Hammons,  Bettye Saar, Senga Nengudi, Samella Lewis, Houston Conwill and Charles White and renowned African American artists from elsewhere whose works were collected by the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance company of Los Angeles.  The show touched Jefferson personally in its inclusion of a piece titled Fallen Man by her uncle, John Riddle.   

Other exhibits that stand out for her are Deconstructing Apartheid that showcased the powerful photographs taken in South Africa and smuggled out of the country during the apartheid era by Peter Magubane and An Idea Called Tomorrow which challenged artists of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds to create works related to what they saw as key civil rights issues of the future.  One piece from that exhibition became part of the museum’s permanent collection and sits near the museum entrance.  It’s Wishing on a Star by local artist Charles Dixon.  

One thing Jefferson wasn’t able to complete but she got off to a great start is planning for a major expansion and renovation of the museum. That will have to be completed by her successor.

As a licensed attorney and former professional dancer, Charmaine Jefferson is proof positive of the empowering aspects of a full, mind-body connection.  The LA native was a student body president at Dorsey High School who earned a BA in dance from UCLA, an MA in dance education from NYU, and a JD from the Georgetown University Law Center. Her previous employment included being executive director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, vice president of business affairs for dePasse Entertainment, director of Show Development for Disney Entertainment Productions, and deputy and acting commissioner for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

In her life-long advocacy of the arts and education, Jefferson has served as a board member or volunteer for numerous organizations. She will continue this advocacy through Kelan Resources, her non-profit arts management consulting firm.

Eric Hanks is director of M. Hanks Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, and a certified art appraiser specializing in African American art.