History and Art Project will Commemorate the former Belmar Neighborhood

December 5, 2019 2:32 PM

SANTA MONICA, Calif. – The City of Santa Monica has selected social practice artist April Banks to work with historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson in the effort to commemorate the Belmar neighborhood that was formerly part of the civic center campus. The two will work with the community to dive into and elevate the history of Santa Monica’s former African American neighborhood located at the civic center. The outcome of the Belmar History + Art (BH+A) project will be artworks and educational programs that commemorate and celebrate the rich legacy of African American contributions to Santa Monica. 

“As we look back at the life and erasure of a vibrant beach-side Black neighborhood, we move forward in celebration of the culture and businesses that once thrived here,” said Banks. “I’m honored to engage with the Santa Monica community in workshops, conversations and meals to build awareness and permanently commemorate this history.” 

Over the coming months, Banks will unravel the stories, memories, and dreams of Santa Monicans and the descendants of those who were displaced from the Belmar neighborhood. Banks works with artmaking as “social practice,” a form that 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 organized by Dr. Jefferson, the two will shepherd a dialogue with community members to inform an artistic interpretation. Interpretive elements and artworks may find further scope in other sites across Santa Monica. 

“Telling the stories of the neighborhood before it became the ‘Civic Center’ helps make the history of the African American experience in California more visible, and provides a little more symbolic equity and social justice for all,” said Dr. Jefferson. “I look forward to collaborating with April Banks and the community to create an exemplary public history and art program that will amplify understanding of our collective and diverse cultural coastal heritage.”

As part of its approval of the Civic Center Multipurpose Sports 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. After a panel selection process led by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs, the Santa Monica Arts Commission approved Banks’ selection at their October 2019 meeting. 

Visit santamonica.gov/arts/belmar for more detail and ongoing updates on the project, including opportunities to get involved in January.


April Banks was raised as 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 intertwines 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.

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.


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