A memorial service will be held Saturday September 28 for community activist, artist and curator Cecil Fergerson . Fergerson died Wednesday September 18, in West Los Angeles, according to family members, who said he was admitted to the hospital last month for pneumonia. He was 82 years old.
Fergerson came to Los Angeles from Oklahoma with his parents in 1938. The family settled in Watts, where Fergerson would eventually be known for his art gallery at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Before that however, the advocate for minority artists in Los Angeles had very little interest in art.
“Art really wasn’t fascinating to me because you’d walk around there and all you’d see was all these portraits of white folks,” he said during an interview with Karen Anne Mason for “African-American Artists of Los Angeles” oral history project sponsored by UCLA in in the early ‘90s.
In fact, his interest could have developed more from a financial standpoint than a creative one. Fergerson began his career as a maintenance man at a museum in Los Angeles after high school graduation. He eventually got promoted to museum helper, moving and installing art work.
He became interested in art then, studying the displays at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where he worked and reading extensively about the subject. During the “African American Artists” interview Fergerson revealed that it was the Watts Riots in 1965 that really inspired him to get involved in tying together a desire for activism and a newly found love for art. He began asking himself, he said, how he could help make a difference after the riots.
He started the Black Arts Council with a partner, Claude Booker who also worked at LACMA. The council wanted more Black involvement in the museum’s programming and they wanted a Black curator. While waiting for LACMA to respond, pair decided to take matters into their own hands.
“Well, Claude Booker and I, since we had this expertise at the County Art Museum of doing the shows in a certain kind of way, we thought that we would create a museum space inside a gymnasium,” Fergerson told Mason.
“So we went to the Junior Chamber of Commerce and got them to purchase some modules for us, have some modules built, which means they were just four-by-eight-foot walls that you could put together in different kinds of configurations that we designed…”
They began organizing art tours and exhibitions and cultural programs for the Watts Summer Festival. The Council approached LACMA again about involving the city’s Black art scene in the museum. LACMA officials agreed in 1969 to a three evening lecture series focusing on Black artists, and a Black art exhibition.
Fergerso, who became curator, left LACMA in 1985 and devoted himself full time to Los Angeles’ Black Art community. He would now be curator for his own, the William Grant Still Community Arts Center and his namesake gallery, the Cecil Fergerson Gallery at WLAC. Fergerson is survived by his wife, five children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. WLCAC is located at 10950 S. Central Ave.
Watts, CA 90059memorial service will be Saturday 9/28/13 at 1pm at