Charmaine Jefferson elected chair of the board of trustees of the California Institute of the Arts, where Charles Gaines taught and Mark Bradford, Henry Taylor and Lauren Halsey graduated


The CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF THE ARTS elected Charmaine Jefferson chairman of its board of directors. A veteran arts administrator, she has served on the CalArts board since 2006. Her appointment is historic, as 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 and capable leader with extensive expertise in nonprofit administration and fundraising. Not only has she served as a trustee of CalArts for the past 16 years, but she is a vital member of the national and Los Angeles arts community,” CalArts President Ravi S. Rajan said in a statement. “As President, she will bring a proven operational understanding to the Board’s oversight of the Institute and a rallying spirit that continues to champion CalArts’ experimental and generative model of arts education with our constituents and of our donors.”


Charmaine Jefferson, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of the Arts (2014 photo). | Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha

CalArtsComment is located in Valencia, about 30 miles north of Los Angeles. The origins of the institution date back 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. The California Institute of the Arts was born from the merger of the 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 in the visual, performing, media, and literary arts are offered.

Board members also include artists Cauleen Smith, a faculty administrator and actor Don Cheadle, who earned a BFA in theater from CalArts. Professor Emeritus, pioneering conceptual artist Charles Gaines taught at CalArts for three decades before recently retiring. Well-known graduates include artists Mark Bradford, Henry Taylor, and Lauren Halsey. They all studied with Gaines, as well as many other artists who graduated from the school, including Edgar Arceneaux, Lyle Ashton Harris, Rodney McMillan, and Gary Simons.

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

In LOS ANGELES, Jefferson served as executive director of the California African American Museum for 11 years, from 2003 to 2014. Since 1995, she has led KÉLAN Resources, a strategic consulting firm that provides philanthropists and nonprofit organizations focused on arts, education, history and culture business planning, management and community engagement services.

Previously, Jefferson served as director of program development at Disney Entertainment Productions after a brief stint as vice president of business affairs at de Passe Entertainment. Previously, he was Executive Director of the Dance Theater of Harlem School and International Touring Troupe (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 an undergraduate degree in dance from UCLA, a master’s degree in dance education from New York University, and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center.

BLACK ARTISTS HAVE PARTICIPATED in CalArts for decades in limited numbers. Gaines joined the faculty in 1989 and has devoted his career as an educator exclusively to the school. During his long tenure, he fought to address CalArts’ 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 a philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. In addition to the staffed position, which was first held by Gaines, the funding facilitates “the further development of Black members and other underrepresented faculty at the School of Art through its support for the research, creative activities and curricular innovation”.

A few months later, the artist establishes the Charles Gaines Scholarship for black MFA students. Gaines provided seed funding for two years. Subsequently, David Kordansky, gallerist and former student of Gaines, volunteered with matching funds. Jill Kraus, an administrator whose son also studied with Gaines, also made a financial contribution.


CalArts main building. Photo by Scott Grolle, courtesy CalArts

“If you want to diversify the art world, you have to start by diversifying art schools,” Gaines wrote in an opinion piece. published last year by ARTnews. Gaines also said: He shared the challenges he faced recruiting black students to CalArts over the years, due to expensive tuition. During her tenure, Gaines observed that without race-based scholarship, achieving diversity was impossible. His scholarship initiative finally gained momentum and institutional support, he said, when fellow artist Cauleen Smith joined the faculty and “took up the torch”.

“When I started teaching there in 1989, two black students could be counted in the graduate program out of about 45. During my time at the school, the number of MFA graduates who identified as black is only 35. the few black students we have taught have had significant careers,” Gaines wrote, citing Bradford, Taylor, Halsey and others. “They have outperformed their white peers and diversified the art world more than I could have anticipated.”

Incidentally, 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 a international footprint. David Kordansky represents Halsey, who established All in all during the pandemic. The ongoing food program brings organic produce from nearby farms to residents of its South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. With Norton, Bradford co-founded Art + Practice, a non-profit organization providing exhibition space, arts programming and support for transitioning youth in Leimert Park.

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

JEFFERSON SUCCEEDS Tim Disney (grandson of Roy O. Disney), who has served as Chairman of the Board 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 becomes Chairman of the Board.

“I am happy to be a CalArts trustee and it is an honor to continue this work now as Chairman of the Board. CalArts is a place where creative excellence and critical thinking come together to cultivate a unique artistic community in the world. CalArts graduates everywhere are 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 works in the big museums. All of this and more speaks to the school’s outsized cultural impact,” Jefferson said in a statement.

“In partnership with my fellow trustees and an extremely talented president, faculty and staff, I look forward to continuing to serve the Institute as we work together to develop more artistic opportunities for our students, increase the access to scholarships for prospective students, raise our excellent alumni, and improve the very facilities in which all of this incredible CalArts magic takes place. CT

BOOKSHELF
“Charles Gaines: Palm Trees and Other Works” explores the artist’s many works inspired by the palm trees of the Californian desert. “Charles Gaines: Fence: 1974-1989” accompanies the artist’s first museum investigation. Also consider the monograph “Marc Bradford” the catalog “Mark Bradford: Final Papers,” and “Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is another day,” which documents Bradford’s 2017 Venice Biennale exhibition.

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