"Black history is celebrated in many places, but never on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in a comprehensive way," said Maudette Ball, director of the Palos Verdes Community Arts Assn.
After all, the black population in the four Palos Verdes Peninsula cities ranges from 2% to 4%, according to 1987 estimates.
Even so, the largest ethnic cultural event in the association's history--an art exhibition, lectures, films, children's craft classes and music--will be a monthlong observance of Black History Month in February.
Featuring African art and works by 20 contemporary American black artists, the "Ancestors and African American Art" exhibit will open with a public reception Jan. 22 from 8 to 10 p.m. at the art center at 5504 W. Crestridge Road in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Besides the exhibit, which will continue through Feb. 27, the schedule for Black History Month also includes lectures, craft classes, school tours, a film series, a choral performance and other activities.
Ball said the monthlong event was suggested by Janet Baszile, president of the multicultural committee of the Community Assn. of the Peninsula, which sponsors activities to bring the Peninsula's ethnic groups together.
Groups participating in the observance include the Black Heritage Assn. of Palos Verdes and Palos Verdes Links, a black women's cultural and philanthropic group, as well as California State University, Dominguez Hills and the Palos Verdes school and library districts.
"Palos Verdes is a much more diverse community than it appears at first glance," said Ball. "There are 27 different languages spoken here."
The art center put on its first ethnic exhibition nine years ago, a show on tribal African art, but Ball said it was not until last year's Japanese exhibit that Peninsula residents and other groups became heavily involved.
"The Japanese community worked with us on this show, and the Japanese consul general co-sponsored it. Much the same thing is true this year with the black community."
She said the art center has a waiting list of cultural groups interested in having exhibits, including Chinese, Korean and Saudi Arabian.
Ball said "Ancestors and African American Art" will be a significant show because it combines African work--including masks, spiritual works and fertility pieces--with work by black American artists since the 1930s.
There will be paintings by the late Charles White and works by sculptor and print maker Elizabeth Catlett, 69, who lives in Mexico City. Ball said both were among the "pioneer moderns" of the Los Angeles art scene in the 1930s. Both sought to portray the spirit, struggle and potential of black Americans, according to their own early comments on their work.
Among current Los Angeles artists who will have works in the show are John Outterbridge, director of the Watts Towers Art Center, and Matthew Thomas and Masud Kordofan. Cecil Fergerson, curator of the exhibit, said all three are conceptual artists who make constructions of steel and rags. They will create their works in the Palos Verdes gallery, he said.
The exhibit also will feature work by Varnette Honeywood, whose paintings of contemporary black experience hang on the walls of the Huxtable home on the Bill Cosby television show. She has said her work represents the "spirituality and underlying force" that have "helped a people survive."
Fergerson, an arts consultant who works extensively in the South Los Angeles community, said many people "have no idea about the contribution of Afro-American people to this society. This exhibition will take care of some of those evils."
In addition to the exhibit, which will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday beginning Jan. 23, the center will feature these activities:
Lectures Jan. 25 on black American art and Feb. 1 on African art, both at 7:30 p.m.
School tours, which will bring students from the Peninsula and from predominantly black South-Central Los Angeles to the art exhibit. There will also be exhibits and workshops for students in the community room at the Courtyard Mall.
Saturday craft classes for children on such things as mask and instrument making and African music and dance, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., starting Jan. 23.
A film series starting Jan. 29 at 8 p.m. with a talk by Peninsula resident and film collector Henry Sampson on blacks in films prior to 1950. Films to be shown during the month include "Lilies of the Field" and "A Raisin in the Sun."
A performance by the Jubilee Choir of Cal State Dominguez Hills on Feb. 21 at 1:30 p.m., along with demonstrations by working artists.
Events at other locations include an evening of jazz, featuring such musicians as Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell, on Feb. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Norris Community Theatre in Rolling Hills Estates, and a lecture on blacks in early Los Angeles on Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Peninsula Center Library. All three peninsula libraries also will have children's story hours on black history and culture.
The art exhibit is free, but there are charges for some other events. Complete information is available from the art center at (213) 541-2479.