July 6, 2020 10:00 AM
Last month, the Santa Monica Arts Commission approved the final design for the artwork to honor and remember the Belmar neighborhood, Santa Monica’s former African American neighborhood where the Civic Center is now located. Artist April Banks’ “A Resurrection in Four Stanzas” will be unveiled as part of the opening of the City’s newest open space, the Civic Center Multipurpose Sports Field. The opening will be held when public health guidance allows.
The work focuses on a shotgun house, a form of vernacular architecture that was common in the Belmar neighborhood. Belmar was an area of early African American settlement in Santa Monica and a place where residents and African American-owned businesses thrived between 1900 and 1950. By the mid-fifties under the flag of “urban renewal,” the City of Santa Monica took possession of the neighborhood through eminent domain actions, burning the remaining housing to make way for the new Civic Auditorium and Civic Center campus.
“A Resurrection in Four Stanzas” was created as part of the Belmar History + Art project, honoring this neighborhood and the lives of the people who lived there and marking the site of this historical injustice.
“Around the world, statues honoring racist histories are being pulled down in protest. I am empowered that during this movement my sculpture will lift up and amplify the hidden history of Belmar,” said artist April Banks.
In addition to the sculpture, the site will include a permanent public history exhibition that includes interpretive panels detailing the history of the Belmar neighborhood and its businesses, places of worship and community members. Project Historian Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson shared, “I am gratified to see the historical interpretive panels and art exhibition on the way to installation. This reclamation of the pre-1950s erased African American legacy in the Civic Center area is an important social justice and equity action, recognizing that African Americans and other marginalized communities have a right to historical and cultural sites.”
The project brought together Santa Monica community members to learn about a buried past and share their personal histories and hopes for the future of African American achievement in Santa Monica. April Banks facilitated several story sharing, creative events, and workshops leading up to the final sculpture design. Banks’ work was informed by the research of Dr. Jefferson, who shined a light on the neighborhood’s thriving African American-owned businesses, a strong history of activism and protest, and a continuing thread of family that leads to the present day.
“This historic project offers our community the opportunity to have informed conversations about the systematic changes that are needed to create equity. The story of Belmar has been pushed to the side for generations, so it is my hope that this project will begin to offer some measure of healing for our Black Santa Monica residents,” said Arts Commissioner Janeen Jackson. “The narrative of eviction and loss is a painful one, but I think that experiencing this artwork will encourage Santa Monicans to step down from a place of comfort and embrace the discomfort that comes from learning the truth about our history. I'm so proud to be a resident of Santa Monica and I'm proud of the efforts that the City is taking to tell the full history of our community.”
The City of Santa Monica will continue this History + Art project in a second phase that will focus on histories and communities of the Bay Street Beach Historic District. The City will build on this effort to continue forward projects to address systemic racism and amplify the voices of the Black community as part of Santa Monica’s Black Agenda and beyond.
On June 18, 2020, the Recreation and Parks Commission recommended the Council consider naming the site “Belmar Park.” The Council will hold a public hearing and approve a name for the site this summer. The interpretive panels and artwork will be completed and installed later this year.
Visit the Belmar History + Art website at www.santamonica.gov/arts/belmar for more information.
Public Information Officer