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Charmaine Jefferson, Executive Director, California African American Museum

Charmaine Jefferson


I became Executive Director of the California African American Museum in 2003, and now the time has come for me to move on to new opportunities. Writing this final Museum Notes message is not easy, but it compels me to reflect upon what was accomplished in this place so treasured and once curated by my artist/ uncle John Riddle, Jr. I am so grateful to have been in this role as his last dream of Deconstructing Apartheid came to life. It was in his spirit and that of our cousin Carter G. Woodson that I entered CAAM, grounded in  the notion that a culturally specific mission doesn’t mean we have to be culturally exclusive or geographically narrow; that we did not have to live by stereotypical definitions of who and what we are as a museum, a culture or as a race of people. Clearly, many of you also shared a vision for a more locally impactful and globally recognized African American voice to come from these walls as you grew our annual attendance from 35,000 to over 100,000 on-site visitors.

Much was accomplished but some of the small wins turned into epic triumphs. Through the former Foundation
we launched a modest Acquisition Fund. We purchased works from artists John Outterbridge, Betye Saar,
Artis Lane, William Pajaud, and Phoebe Beasley. Even without funds, the CAAM/Friends collections of art,
historical artifacts, and documents have grown exponentially because YOU made personal donations. We
went from having four galleries to seven exhibition spaces and placed art on the Courtyard windows. We
constructed a larger-than-life glass sign outside our building so visitors would know who we are, and a plan to
expand our building to 126,000 sq. ft. establishes a powerful legacy for physical growth. In the interim, an Art
on the Footprint project in development will empower community art and citizen curators to further enhance
the exterior of this building until the new edifice arises.

Numerous collaborations also brought amazing results. From the exhibition An Idea Called Tomorrow with the
Skirball Cultural Center, an iconic sculpture arose on CAAM’s Plaza––Wishing on a Star by Charles Dickson
epitomizes our awareness of future civil and human rights concerns. The Urban Issues Breakfast Forums
brought thought-provoking early morning dialogues to CAAM’s Courtyard, including then Senator Barack
Obama signing more than 900 copies of “The Audacity of Hope.”

In these past 11 years, there have been nearly 100 innovative exhibits, catalogue publications, and more than
800 celebrations, lectures, art-making workshops and performances, and it took a lot of “Drum Majors” for
CAAM to make it happen. Our volunteer Service Council staffed events on and off-site; the Docent Council
led exhibition tours; and our History Council organized and branded Conversations at CAAM. But, it just may
be that the most important triumphs were life-changing and human! We launched Target Sundays at CAAM
making it possible to reopen our doors and community outreach. Under “Mentoring Generations,” our high
school employment training program grew to 30 paid students; 10 of whom work year-round. Today, Young
Docents and free Buses & Docents are at the core of this museum…AND it is from this vision that we
launched Young Voices at CAAM.

So many milestones met, and so many donors who have helped to propel us forward over the years. I wish
I had room to name them all here, but I especially want to thank Target Corporation, the Annenberg and
the California Community Foundations, Bank of America and Wells Fargo for the depth and consistency of
their contributions. Because of your faith in our vision, we are attracting the likes of the Capital Group and
other new supporters. Coupled with the thousands of visitors dropping donations in our box by the door and
hundreds of new memberships added to our roster, CAAM has evolved from being a quiet, half-forgotten
little part of Exposition Park to a highly-regarded, world class institution. I have witnessed firsthand the
support YOU have given to CAAM and to me, and from my heart I thank you for having allowed me this great
leadership opportunity.

With sincere and everlasting regard,