From postwar efforts to end discrimination in the motion-picture industry, recording studios, and musicians’ unions, through the development of community-based arts organizations, to the creation of searing films critiquing conditions in the black working class neighborhoods of a city touting its multiculturalism—Black Arts West
documents the social and political significance of African American arts activity in Los Angeles between the Second World War and the riots of 1992. Focusing on the lives and work of black writers, visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers, Daniel Widener tells how black cultural politics changed over time, and how altered political realities generated new forms of artistic and cultural expression. His narrative is filled with figures invested in the politics of black art and culture in postwar Los Angeles, including not only African American artists but also black nationalists, affluent liberal whites, elected officials, and federal bureaucrats.
Along with the politicization of black culture, Widener explores the rise of a distinctive regional Black Arts Movement. Originating in the efforts of wartime cultural activists, the movement was rooted in the black working class and characterized by struggles for artistic autonomy and improved living and working conditions for local black artists. As new ideas concerning art, racial identity, and the institutional position of African American artists emerged, dozens of new collectives appeared, from the Watts Writers Workshop, to the Inner City Cultural Center, to the New Art Jazz Ensemble. Spread across generations of artists, the Black Arts Movement in Southern California was more than the artistic affiliate of the local civil-rights or black-power efforts: it was a social movement itself. Illuminating the fundamental connections between expressive culture and political struggle, Black Arts West is a major contribution to the histories of Los Angeles, black radicalism, and avant-garde art.