Student art project honors the historically Black Belmar neighborhood of Santa Monica.
By Kai Preminger, 11th grade
April Banks is a visual artist who was commissioned by Santa Monica Cultural Affairs to tell the story, through art, of a neighborhood that was erased. She works in a variety of media, creating work that inspires and educates. During her recent virtual artist in residency
with Crossroads’ Sam Francis Gallery, she presented students in the Elementary, Middle and Upper Schools with the ability to take part in the “Justice and Joy” project.
In her initial presentation to the visual arts classes, we learned about a neighborhood called the Belmar Triangle, a community from the 1900s made up of mostly African Americans. Unfortunately, the community was displaced by city officials through eminent domain. The neighborhood was located in the middle of Santa Monica, near what is now Santa Monica High School, the civic auditorium and a newly constructed multipurpose recreational field surrounded by informational plaques. The field will also be home to a beautiful sculpture, “A Resurrection in Four Stanzas,” created by April telling the story of Belmar.
In 1958, the Belmar neighborhood had plans to construct the Ebony Beach Club, a place where African Americans could be safe from harassment. However, this project was also taken by eminent domain after city officials saw the potential it held. As students, we were tasked with bringing historical images of this community back to life through collage, animation, photography, short stories, paintings, etc. We were given the freedom to, as April so eloquently put it, “re-imagine a dream deferred” in any medium we chose. Reviving the Ebony Beach Club through art
was an incredibly thought-provoking experience, as it opened our eyes to what could have been, as well as each individual light that made up these communities. April’s goal was to focus on the joyful aspects of the neighborhood, rather than the physical destruction that it is often remembered for.
April organized a time capsule to be opened in 2070, preserving the artwork and ensuring that the story of the Belmar neighborhood will never be forgotten. In order to safely put on an exhibition during the pandemic, she coordinated with city officials to put on a video projection
where student work and other historical images could be publicly displayed on the side of the civic auditorium.
Visiting the exhibition was surreal and extremely informative. While I have lived near Santa Monica my entire life, I was unaware of the history behind these forgotten communities. I am so grateful to April for helping us all remember that there is so much more behind the city than we had initially thought. In addition to this, I had never imagined my work would be projected on a building. It was truly an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
View the "Justice and Joy" zine of Crossroads students’ artwork here. Learn more about Santa Monica’s once-vibrant Black neighborhoods in this Los Angeles Times article, which pays tribute to longtime Crossroads Trustee and grandfather Nat Trives, who served as both the city’s first Black city councilmember and mayor.