Los Angeles Snapshot

While it is crucial to explore the role of the African American community in Southern California during this period, it is important to note that there was a strong network of supporters and friends who stood behind these artists, some of whom were not black. During this period artistic collaboration and political activism crossed racial lines. In addition, Los Angeles–based artists were strongly connected to black artists across the state and the country. Artists from various ethnic backgrounds worked alongside the black artists featured in Now Dig This!, including Tyrus Wong, an Asian American who was a member of Eleven Associated, a co-op gallery founded by African American artists in the 1950s. Mark di Suvero, who was born in China to Italian parents, was another prominent artist working in California at this time. He and Melvin Edwards collaborated on the Artists' Tower of Protest (commonly known as the Peace Tower), an antiwar sculpture erected in 1966. Di Suvero also contributed to John Outterbridge's Containment Series by lending Outterbridge his power tools to craft the works. Academic institutions such as Chouinard Art Institute facilitated introductions between artists, including Ron Miyashiro and Daniel LaRue Johnson. Mexican American artists such as Andrew Zermeño were also creating activist works during this period. Outterbridge, who at the time was running the Compton Communicative Arts Academy, worked with Chicano artists such as Zermeño and associated alternative institutions such as the Mechicano Art Center.

While racial boundaries were being confronted during this era, black female artists also engaged with the women's movement. In 1973 Betye Saar curated Black Mirror, an exhibition devoted to female black artists at the Womanspace Gallery, the predecessor to the Woman's Building. At that time she met Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, a renowned graphic designer who would go on to be a cofounder of the Woman's Building; they have collaborated on various projects since that time. Black artists in Los Angeles were also tied to African American artists working in Northern California. Bay Area–based artist Raymond Saunders was a friend of Betye Saar and Fred Eversley. Marie Johnson (Calloway), also based in the Bay Area, exhibited concurrently with Saar at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1977. Calloway also organized the show Twentieth Century Black Artists at the San Jose Museum of Art. There were strong ties between black artists working in Northern and Southern California throughout this period, and this relationship is reflected in both the visual and conceptual aspects of their work.