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Cultural Treasures of South LA: African-Americans and the Arts

Cultural Treasures of South LA: African-Americans and the Arts

Curated by LA Commons

February 1 – February 29, 2024

Don't miss the special Black History Month gallery exhibition at Los Angeles City Hall, available for public viewing until February 29! Curated by LA Commons, our South LA exhibition is brought to you by the LA Department of Cultural Affairs and our Cultural Treasures team!

We're showcasing South LA, which is not just a location but also an identity—a space for community building and a platform for creativity. Cultural Treasures of South LA help our communities flourish by facilitating expression through food, dance, music, film, poetry, visual art, and more. They immortalize feelings of indescribable joy or sadness, preserve our histories, and pay homage to our heroes.

Curatorial Statement

South LA is a place, and it is also an identity, a venue for building, and grounds for creating.

The vibrancy of arts and culture in South LA is undisputed. Storied creators like Ben Caldwell, Lula Washington, Noni Olabisi, and C. Bernard Jackson weave social, political, and spiritual narratives that define and enrich our experiences and neighborhoods. A deep sense of community persists because of the commitment of visionary and creative individuals who render our stories into art, which has led members of the community to identify them as Cultural Treasures.

While Cultural Treasures can also be institutions or places, it is our creators who facilitate expression through food, dance, music, film, poetry, visual art and more, to immortalize feelings of indescribable joy or sadness, preserve our histories or pay homage to our heroes. With this in mind, we tell the true story of South LA — an identity, a place of innovation, inspiration, and creativity through the eyes, hands, and voices of these noteworthy creators and many others in this ongoing project to appreciate and amplify our Cultural Treasures.

The South Los Angeles Promise Zone and the broader South Los Angeles region have thrived despite economic disinvestment resulting from institutionalized racism and systemic oppression. This includes practices such as “redlining” in the decades following the New Deal in the 1930s; oversaturation of liquor stores and scarcity of basic amenities like grocery stores; the closure of significant job centers like the Goodyear tire plant in the 1970s; and the emergence of mass incarceration towards the end of the 20th century. The cumulative impact of these policies has disproportionately hit Black and Brown communities in South Los Angeles, establishing structural barriers to wealth creation not generally encountered by residents in predominantly white neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

And yet, South LA Artists have continued to create, build, and teach their craft to each generation.

About Cultural Treasures of South LA

Cultural Treasures of South LA is a community-based cultural asset mapping and activation initiative of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) in the South Los Angeles Promise Zone co-created and implemented in partnership with LA Commons, the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z), Community Coalition, and the University of Southern California (USC)’s Neighborhood Data for Social Change (NDSC) Initiative. This project gives South LA community members a participatory platform to spotlight local Cultural Treasures that they deem significant, illuminating the rich cultural tapestry that makes this community thrive.

Cultural Treasures include artists, musicians, dance and theater companies, studios, galleries, street art, restaurants, annual events and celebrations, bookstores, social halls, cultural practices, community elders and tradition-bearers, historic sites, and gathering places of all kinds.

The South LA Promise Zone is approximately five miles wide, from Crenshaw Boulevard to Central Avenue, and is roughly framed by LA Metro’s Expo (E), Crenshaw (K) and Blue (A) Line light rail systems. The area has a population of approximately 233,000 residents, which constitutes just under 6% of Los Angeles City’s total population (American Community Survey, 2021). The South Los Angeles Promise Zone area is home to a diverse and vibrant community recognized for its culture, history, and neighborhood assets. The South Los Angeles region has a rich history as a social, cultural, and economic hub for Los Angeles’ Black community. Starting with the Central Avenue jazz scene during the 1920s, the area has been at the center of many social and cultural movements of national and international significance over the last century.

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