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Charmaine Jefferson, Executive Director, California African American Museum

Charmaine Jefferson


From the moment our doors opened in 1984, the California African American Museum has actively contributed to the cultural, educational and economic ecology of greater Los Angeles and beyond. It is a role we plan to play for the next 30 years and beyond. The 2013 Otis Report on the Creative Economy ( highlights how critical the business of art and culture is to the well-being of Los Angeles and California. Comprised largely of artists, designers, actors, writers, dancers, musicians, educators, and film/television professionals, the Creative Economy is made up of an especially vibrant community that demands its workers think, create, tell stories, and solve problems. It accounts for one out of seven jobs in Los Angeles and earned income of $50.6 billion. It contributed 7.8% of California’s Gross State Product in 2012 and 44% of California’s workers were employed in creative occupations. 

The Otis Report provides a great tool by which cultural institutions and arts organizations can speak of their communal contributions, and leverage and expand their spheres of influence in order to be a part of the big picture strategies to shape and sustain this unique economic sociology. When arts organizations and institutions work in tandem with members of LA’s Creative Class, not only does our Creative Economy flourish, but opportunities are created for the next generation of working artists to come of age, create revenue streams, and produce work that is important, that endures and extends this nation’s artistic canon.

Our African American community both contributes and benefits from this component part of America’s culture and business economy. At CAAM, we are committed to not only preserving the culture and art of African Americans but also to using this space as a platform to support a wide array of ideas manifested in art, and where art and culture contribute to a sturdy foundation for economic vitality. At our monthly Target Sundays at CAAM programs, visitors not only enjoy live performances, but they are also exposed to a wide-range of art-making vendors whom we refer to as Artpreneurs. These Artpreneurs sell everything from handmade fashions, accessories, jewelry, paintings and baskets to rare books and historical artifacts relevant to our mission. Playing midwife to move the local economy forward, we use this platform to link our guests and Artpreneur vendors so that they can establish their own long-term relationships. As a result, both become active drum majors for CAAM.

Every day we utilize art and creativity as a tool to enhance education and curriculum learning for students through our Education Department, and support the professional Creative Class through our Research Library. We are honored to support teachers, historians, architects, actors, screenwriters, novelists, documentarians and costume designers, and assist them in discovering new information and facts that enhance their work, and bring our cultural contributions forward.

We make large investments in creativity annually as we develop and present new ambitious and adventurous exhibitions. From artists yet-to-be-discovered, such as students using the elements of architecture to create new works in Hands on Design, to showcasing those long recognized and firmly established in our collective consciousness like Elizabeth Catlett whose El Abrazo (The Embrace) is pictured herein. Providing a venue for promoting the art and artists of our community contributes to their recognition in the broader and culturally-specific art market.

We work assiduously to train the next generation of museum professionals. High school students in our Young Docents program gain practical experience throughout the year in museum and gallery management.  They lead tours, learn about the artists and history on exhibit, and the finer points of business etiquette while earning a sustainable salary. With this experience and these tools, they are urged toward college and prepared to pick up the torch as future cultural leaders.

CAAM is proud to be a part of the creative business economy. We’re asking the questions, making educational connections, linking Artpreneurs, and providing a place where diverse voices can be heard.

We strive to be a growing part of a grand cultural business that is viable and enduring.

Join us. Become a member of the California African American Museum today!