A Civic Commemoration Project
Belmar History + Art (BH+A)
Santa Monica Cultural Affairs has embarked on a collaborative project to commemorate the history of the African American residents and business owners of the Belmar neighborhood, which was formerly situated in what is now the Civic Center campus. A team has been gathered to develop art and interpretive elements and an educational program centered at the new Civic Center Multipurpose Field, which is set to open in summer 2020.
The artwork, interpretive signage, and education plan are being informed and inspired by historical research and a public engagement process that aims to shine a light on underrepresented stories of the community, including the legacy of displacement that the site in part represents. The Santa Monica Arts Commission confirmed social practice artist April Banks as designer and lead artist for this engagement process, gathering the stories, reminiscences, and dreams of Santa Monicans and the descendants of those who were displaced from the Field site. Banks works with artmaking as “social practice,” a form which puts human engagement and community at the heart of its process. Utilizing themes gathered from the public engagement activities and historical materials about the area, Banks, in collaboration with project historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, shepherds a dialogue with community members that will culminate in an artistic interpretation at the new Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field that commits to social justice, commemorates the site’s history, and celebrates the rich legacy of African American contributions to Santa Monica life. Interpretive element and artworks may expand into other sites across Santa Monica as “Belmar History + Art” continues after the opening of the Civic Field.
Events & Programs
Join Us for an Event
RE/GENERATION is a series of events for the community. We invite you to participate and contribute to this project.
This aerial view shows Belmar, one of the first neighborhoods where African Americans settled when they migrated to Santa Monica. The Belmar area thrived with homes, culture and business until it was displaced in the 1950s by eminent domain.
"The City of Santa Monica has the oldest African American settlement of any seaside community in the region which includes their descendants and institutions from the early twentieth century. Seduced by the escapism of the sand and surf resort town, these pioneers came to seek their dream of “El Dorado,” just like the other migrants to the area. They were of the working class group who had faith in the promise of upward mobility." —Alison Rose Jefferson
The project site is located at 4th Street and Pico Blvd surrounding the new Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field. As part of the approval of the sport field, the Coastal Commission added a special condition requiring interpretive signage and an educational program that conveys the history of the African-American residents and business owners of the Belmar neighborhood that was formerly located here.
More about the Civic Center Field Project; more about general plans at the Civic Center Campus.
- Civic Field Approval Press Release, March 2019
- Civic Field Groundbreaking Press Release, August 2019
- BH+A Launch Seascape Article, December 2019
- Belmar project Press Release, December 2019
- Email Newsletter, January 2020
- Email Newsletter, February 2020
- Email Newsletter, March 2020
- Santa Monica Public Library Digital Image Archives and Marcus O. Tucker Collection
- Quinn Research Center
- Culture Mapping 90404 - 18th Street Art Center
- “Walking on Water: A Brief History of Black Surfers” (film)
Flamming, Douglas. Bound For Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow American. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.
Hayden, Delores. Power of Place, Urban Landscapes as Public History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.
Jefferson, Alison. Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2020.
Scott, Paula. Santa Monica: A History on the Edge. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
We are working to build a digital archive of Santa Monica African American history as a part of this project. Stay tuned as we share the development of this archive and how you and your family can participate.
April Banks was raised a vegetarian in the woods of Virginia. She graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from Hampton University in Virginia in 1996. After migrating west, she obtained a Master of Science in Environmental Design from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1999. She lived in Oakland for 13 years, spent a year living abroad in Colombia, before returning to Los Angeles in 2014. Her unconventional career interwines the worlds of art, design, architecture and social practice. With years of experience designing exhibitions for museums, she understands the challenge of creating public engagement opportunities. As an artist she has developed a style that is visually enticing and thought provoking. By combining the two she develops artwork and design solutions that are memorable multi-sensory experiences. Learn more about April’s work at aprilbanks.com.
Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, M.H.C | Ph.D., is a historian and heritage conservation consultant. Her research interests explore the intersection of American history and the African American experience in Southern California, particularly during the Jim Crow era, historical memory, public history, spatial justice, and cultural tourism, with an aim to engage broad audiences through applied history projects in the struggle for social justice. Her new book, Living the California Dream, African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era (University of Nebraska Press, January 2020) examines the local stories of African Americans, including in Santa Monica, who fought for equal access to California’s recreation and relaxation offerings as they contributed to the broader U.S. freedom rights struggle during the nation’s Jim Crow era (1900s to 1960s). Leisure, was not an optional add-on to civil rights, but an essential component of liberty. Her work has garnered attention in KCET-LA programming, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets. Learn more about Dr. Jefferson’s work at alisonrosejefferson.com.