CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS elected Charmaine Jefferson chair of its board of trustees. A veteran arts administrator, she has been a member of the board at CalArts since 2006. Her appointment is historic, Jefferson is the first Black person to lead the board since the school was founded more than half a century ago.

“Charmaine is a brilliant, capable leader with abundant expertise in non-profit administration and fundraising. Not only has she served as a CalArts Trustee for the last 16 years, she is a vital member of the LA and national arts community,” CalArts President Ravi S. Rajan said in a statement. “As Chair, she will bring a tested operational understanding to the Board’s oversight of the Institute, and a rallying spirit that continues to champion CalArts’ experimental, generative model of arts education to our constituents and donors alike.”

 


California Institute of the Arts Board Chair Charmaine Jefferson (Pictured in 2014). | Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha

 

CalArts is located in Valencia, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles. The origins of the institution date to 1961 when Walt Disney and his brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney, envisioned a school where students would thrive in a multidisciplinary environment led by a faculty of working artists. California Institute of the Arts was established through the merger of Chouinard Art Institute and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. The new CalArts emerged with a unified concept and curriculum in 1970 and a permanent campus in 1971. Today, more than 70 degrees across visual, performing, media, and literary arts are offered.

Members of the board also include artist Cauleen Smith, a faculty trustee, and actor Don Cheadle, who earned a BFA in theater from CalArts. A professor emeritus, the pioneering conceptual artist Charles Gaines taught at CalArts for three decades before retiring recently. Well-known graduates include artists Mark Bradford, Henry Taylor, and Lauren Halsey. They all studied with Gaines, along with many other artists who have earned degrees from the school, including Edgar Arceneaux, Lyle Ashton Harris, Rodney McMillan, and Gary Simmons.

Charmaine Jefferson “will bring a tested operational understanding to the Board’s oversight of the Institute, and a rallying spirit that continues to champion CalArts’ experimental, generative model of arts education to our constituents and donors alike.” — CalArts President Ravi S. Rajan

IN LOS ANGELES, Jefferson served as executive director of the California African American Museum for 11 years, from 2003-14. Since 1995, she has operated KÉLAN Resources, a strategic consulting firm that provides philanthropists and nonprofits focused on arts, education, history, and culture with business planning, management, and community engagement services.

Previously, Jefferson was director of show development at Disney Entertainment Productions after a brief stint as vice president of business affairs at de Passe Entertainment. Earlier roles include executive director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem school and international touring company (1992-95) and deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (1987-92).

An artist in her own right, Jefferson began her career as a professional dancer. She earned a undergraduate degree in dance from UCLA, an M.A. in dance education from New York University, and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.

BLACK ARTISTS HAVE PARTICIPATED in CalArts for decades in limited numbers. Gaines joined the faculty in 1989 and dedicated his career as an educator exclusively to the school. During his long tenure, he fought to address CalArts’s lack of diversity problem for years before the concept was favored by the institution.

Announced in 2020, the Charles Gaines Faculty Chair was endowed with a $5 million gift from philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. In addition to the endowed position, which was first held by Gaines, the funding facilitates “further development of Black and other underrepresented faculty members in the School of Art through its support of research, creative activities and curriculum innovation.”

Several months later, the artist established the Charles Gaines Fellowship for Black MFA students. Gaines provided the initial funding for two years. Subsequently, David Kordansky, a gallery owner and a former student of Gaines, stepped forward with matching funds. Jill Kraus, a trustee whose son also studied with Gaines, made a financial contribution, too.

 


CalArts Main Building. Photo by Scott Grolle, Courtesy CalArts

 

“If you want to diversify the art world, you need to begin by diversifying the art schools,” Gaines wrote in an opinion essay published last year by ARTnews. Gaines also said, He shared the challenges he experienced recruiting Black students at CalArts over the years, due to the costly tuition. During his tenure, Gaines observed that without race-based scholarships, achieving diversity was impossible. His fellowship initiative finally gained momentum and institutional support, he said, when fellow artist Cauleen Smith joined the faculty and “took up the mantle.”

“When I began teaching there in 1989, two Black students could be counted in the graduate program of about 45. During my time at the school, the number of MFA graduates who self-identified as Black is just 35. It’s notable how many of the few Black students we have taught went on to have important careers,” Gaines wrote, citing Bradford, Taylor, Halsey, and others. “They overperformed in relation to their white peers and diversified the art world to a greater extent than I could possibly have predicted.”

To his point, Bradford represented the United States with a solo exhibition in the American Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale in 2017. Gaines, Bradford, Taylor, and Simmons are all represented by mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, which has an international footprint. David Kordansky represents Halsey, who established Summaeverythang during the pandemic. The ongoing food program brings organic produce from nearby farms to residents of her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. With Norton, Bradford co-founded Art + Practice, a nonprofit providing exhibition space, arts programming, and support for transition-age foster youth in Leimert Park.

“If you want to diversify the art world, you need to begin by diversifying the art schools.” — Charles Gaines

JEFFERSON IS SUCCEEDING Tim Disney (grandson of Roy O. Disney), who has served as board chair since 2014. During Disney’s tenure, CalArts endured the COVID pandemic, formalized its diversity goals, and hired president Rajan in 2017. On May 3, Jefferson officially became board chair.

“I am joyful to be a CalArts Trustee, and it is an honor to continue this work now as Board Chair. CalArts is a place where creative excellence and critical thinking come together to cultivate an artistic community unlike any other in the world. CalArts graduates are everywhere producing award-winning films, redefining animation, starring in plays, leaping across stages, filling ears with music and song, designing sets and costumes, and exhibiting their artwork in major museums. All of this and so much more is a testament to the school’s outsized cultural impact,” Jefferson said in a statement.

“In partnership with my fellow Trustees and an enormously talented president, faculty, and staff, I look forward to being in further service to the Institute as we work together to develop more artistic opportunities for our students, increase scholarship access for prospective students, lift up our great alumni, and enhance the very facilities in which all of this amazing CalArts magic takes place.” CT

 

BOOKSHELF
“Charles Gaines: Palm Trees and Other Works” explores the artist’s many works inspired by palm trees in the California desert. “Charles Gaines: Gridwork: 1974-1989” accompanied the artist’s first museum survey. Also consider the monograph “Mark Bradford,” the catalog “Mark Bradford: End Papers,” and “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day,” which documents Bradford’s Venice Biennale exhibition in 2017.

 

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