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Home of a legacy

Times Staff Writer

Following a $3.8-million makeover that replaced a leaking roof and saw the installation of state-of-the-art humidity control and computerized heating systems, the California African American Museum at Exposition Park reopened with a bash for more than 800 supporters, including Gov. Gray Davis.

Attending an early evening cocktail reception underwritten by Albertson’s and Sav-on, guests toured the inaugural exhibits, among them “Grafton Tyler Brown: Visualizing California and the Pacific Northwest,” featuring paintings and lithographs by the San Francisco cartographer and artist, and “A Tribute to John T. Riddle, Jr.” -- a former museum curator who died last year -- showcasing his metal sculptures, paintings and serigraphs.

Yet the shadow of a massive cut in state funding hung over the March 21 proceedings. With its annual budget reduced to $2.1 million -- down roughly 35% from last year’s budget of $3.4 million -- the 44,000-square-foot museum has had to reduce operations from six days per week to four. Davis nevertheless told the crowd that the museum had been a “shining example of the power of public-private partnerships. Together, state, county and bond funds contributed almost $4.8 million for renovations,” he said. “And private contributors supported the many innovative programs and exhibits.”

Undaunted by the reduction in funds, event chairwoman Charmayne Mills, a member of the museum’s state board of directors, predicted that the recent cutbacks would not affect the museum’s overall goal of being a significant community resource. “We’ll be building bridges with other institutions and people to co-host fund-raising events,” she said the day of the opening. “We’ll definitely be OK. Now it’s: How can we grow from here? “

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Major corporations have begun to offer support, Mills added. “Bank of America has a representative on our state board and Washington Mutual is thinking about giving us funding. So we are attracting outside funders.”

Mills, who was appointed to the state board by Davis, got involved with the museum because she has a young son, “and I want him to enjoy the African American art, history and culture,” she said. Her favorite exhibit? The museum’s permanent collection, featuring works related to the lives of jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald and Tom Bradley, the sharecropper’s son who went on to shape L.A. with five mayoral terms.


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