Local Hero: Charmaine Jefferson

Charmaine Jefferson

"We try to break myths, to step away from repeating the idea that African American history should only be about oppression...and examine what we have done around the world and for the world."

Charmaine Jefferson is the Executive Director of the California African American Museum, located in Exposition Park, and she has served as director since 2003. She is deeply dedicated to enriching her community and the lives of others through the promotion of all artistic endeavors. Her innovative advocacy of arts education and programming has earned her wide acclaim in both the private and public sectors.

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Jefferson's eight-year career as a professional dancer eventually led her to New York and proved to be the inception of a life-long career supporting the arts. During the early eighties, she served as the senior dance program specialist and site visit coordinator for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C. She transitioned to the practice of law in Tampa, Florida, but she soon returned to the arts and went on to distinguish herself as a champion of both cultural concerns and business administration in her roles as Deputy and Acting Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as the Executive Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Eventually, Jefferson transitioned to the private sector. Drawing upon her extensive administration, legal and planning experience, she became VP of Business Affairs for dePasse Entertainment. She thrived as director, producer, and passionate spokesperson for Disney Entertainment Productions in her capacity as a show developer for the California Adventure arm of their theme parks.

Despite the enjoyment she felt while working for Disney, Jefferson yearned to connect directly with people and experience the thrill of building a meaningful institution by the dint of her own determined work. After some long deliberation, she accepted the position of CAAM's Executive Director. She is extremely proud of the progress that the museum has made during her tenure in spite of the complexities of California's economy. In all of her years as director, she has been instrumental in securing both funding for the numerous exhibitions that CAAM hosts each year and several important partnerships with other venerable museums such as the Skirball Cultural Center and the California Science Center. She was also instrumental in creating CAAM's "Buses & Docents" field trip support program as well as expanding its "Young Docents" high school employment and training program; many of the students who have participated in these programs have been offered college scholarships.

In addition to her tireless efforts and numerous responsibilities at CAAM, Jefferson is also very committed to charitable works and philanthropic organizations. Her list of various memberships is as varied as it is extensive, and she is particularly involved in consulting the advisory board of the California Institute for the Arts, Arts for LA and the California Arts Council, while also serving as a co-mentor on L.A. Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner's "City Fellows" program.

In 2011, Jefferson strives to create even stronger, more varied collaborations between CAAM, artists, and historians of all backgrounds. In the spirit of Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month and nephew of her great grandfather, she aspires to celebrate and honor not only the history of African Americans but also their unique perspectives and influence in California and in communities around the world.


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