Los Angeles Partners with Getty to Preserve City’s Historic African American Sites

As cities across the country reckon with the ways in which the contributions of Black people have long been under-recognized, the Getty will partner with the city of Los Angeles to identify and preserve places that illustrate how African Americans have been integral to L.A.’s history. Of the city’s 1,200 designated local landmarks, only 3 percent (about 36 places) can be linked to African Americans and their contributions to the city, according to a press release from the Getty.

Taking place over three years, the Los Angeles African American Historic Places Project will see the Getty Conservation Institute partner with L.A.’s City Planning Office of Historic Resources (OHR) to create a community engagement program. The two institutions will partner with other local organizations to dig up under-known histories of these communities. The project will also devote resources to analyzing the role that systemic racism plays in L.A.’s historic preservation policies.

“Historic preservation is about the acknowledgment and elevation of places and stories,” Tim Whalen, the Getty Conservation Institute’s director, said in a statement. “The point of this work is to make sure that the stories and places of African Americans in Los Angeles are more present and complete than previously. The work is also about making sure that preservation methods are examined for systemic bias. It’s ultimately about equity.”

Part of the project’s goal is to give official historic designation to various African American sites across the city. Details were not provided about how many sites the project aims to designate.

The Getty and OHR will soon hire a project lead for the organization and will also offer paid internships for aspiring history, preservation, and planning professionals to assist on the project.

Through its various research arms, the Getty has long been involved in helping to support new research and scholarship to the under-known histories of Los Angeles, in particular with its ongoing Pacific Standard Time initiative, in which research-driven exhibitions across Southern California look to tell the city’s diverse art histories more fully.

[Pacific Standard Time ranked on ARTnews’s most important exhibitions of the 2010s.]

As part of its planning for Los Angeles African American Historic Places Project, the Getty and OHR convened a virtual roundtable that included experts on urban planning, historic preservation, African American history, and grassroots and community organizing to help guide the project’s formulation.

One member of that roundtable was Susan D. Anderson, a history curator at the California African American Museum, who said in a statement, “The history of Los Angeles is incomplete without recognition of the African American individuals and institutions that shaped the economic, cultural and civic narrative of the region. This important project will expand how heritage is defined and will provide an opportunity to work with local communities and residents to unearth stories that are vital to our understanding of the place we call home.”

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