The Guide to Virtual Black History Month Events in LA

Virtual events, online exhibitions and more

"The Sugar Shack" (1976) by Ernie Barnes
"The Sugar Shack" (1976) by Ernie Barnes | Photo: UTA Artist Space

Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their important role in U.S. history. The event was originally the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.

After the jump, read on for a list of virtual events and online exhibitions presented by acclaimed Los Angeles cultural institutions in honor of Black History Month.

Presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), African American Heritage Month is a City of Los Angeles cultural celebration that runs concurrently with Black History Month. For a complete list of African American Heritage Month events, visit the DCA website.

"The Sugar Shack" (1976) by Ernie Barnes
"The Sugar Shack" (1976) by Ernie Barnes | Photo: UTA Artist Space

"Liberating Humanity From Within" at UTA Artist Space

Opened in 2016, UTA Artist Space is an extension of United Talent Agency’s commitment to the Los Angeles arts scene as much as it is a venue for showcasing global talent and new work.

Renowned for his unique “neo-mannerist” elongated figures, former NFL star Ernie Barnes created some of the 20th century’s most iconic images of African American life. Now on view at the UTA Artist Space website, Liberating Humanity From Within was curated by Barnes himself prior to his death in 2009 and was never formally presented as an exhibition until now. Liberating Humanity From Within combines never-before-seen paintings directly from the estate, as well as works collected by personal friends, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and private collections. In addition to the original 23 paintings Barnes selected, the virtual exhibition also includes The Sugar Shack (1976), The Graduate (1972), and Portrait of Mrs. Wiggles (1975), all of which appeared in the ‘70s sitcom Good Times. The Sugar Shack was also featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album, I Want You.

Accompanying Barnes's works is an exhibition video with spoken word poetry by the legendary J. Ivy, and a Spotify playlist curated by DJ Niéna Drake.

"Apparitional Visitations" (1973) by Suzanne Jackson
Suzanne Jackson, "Apparitional Visitations," 1973 | Collection of Vaughn C. Payne Jr., M.D. Photo by Ed Glendinning

"Now Dig This!" Expanded Digital Archive at the Hammer Museum

Organized by the Hammer and curated by Columbia University professor Kellie Jones, Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980 chronicled the vital legacy of the city's African American artists. Now Dig This! presented 140 artworks by a pioneering group of artists and the friends who influenced and supported them during this period, and explored the significant contributions of African Americans to the canon of LA–based art.

Launched in 2016, the Now Dig This! digital archive extends the exhibition's life with a gallery of artwork and associated label texts from the installation at the Hammer; essays, artist biographies, and a chronology from the exhibition catalogue; and a variety of other resources meant to encourage further research.

Now Dig This! was originally presented as part of Pacific Standard Time, a landmark collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions across Southern California that came together to tell the story of the birth of the Los Angeles art scene and how it became a new force in the art world.

"Ashes and Embers" from the UCLA Film & Television Archive
"Ashes and Embers" | Photo: UCLA Film & Television Archive

"L.A. Rebellion" at the UCLA Film & Television Archive

Originally presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in 2011 as part of Pacific Standard Time, L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema showcased a group of young African and African-American filmmakers who studied at the UCLA Film School in the late 1960s to late '80s that collectively became known as the "L.A. Rebellion."

Years later, dozens of filmmakers have been identified as part of the movement and the L.A. Rebellion initiative has grown into a massive effort by the Archive to spotlight the contributions of these first generations of Black UCLA film students. As part of the ongoing initiative, the public is invited to view Project One Films and archival interviews with filmmakers.

"President Barack Obama" (2018) by Kehinde Wiley
"Official Portrait of Barack Obama." The African American Experience: The American Mosaic, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 31 Jan. 2021.

"The African American Experience" at LA Public Library

Hosted online by the Los Angeles Public Library, The African American Experience: The American Mosaic encompasses the myriad contributions of African Americans who have achieved cultural and historical prominence. Accessed with your LAPL library card or e-card, this electronic resource includes:

  • Nearly 1,000 biographies of famous political and social figures such as Barack Obama, W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, and Mary McLeod Bethune; as well as fascinating contemporary figures as Amiri Baraka, Muhammad Ali, and Oprah Winfrey.
  • Roughly 8,000 primary and secondary sources, including the complete WPA (Works Progress Administration) Slave Narratives collection, speeches, court cases, quotations, advertisements, and statistics.
  • Roughly 1,500 photographs, maps, and other images.

If you already have a physical library card or a Student Success Card, you don't need an e­-card to view The African American Experience. LA County residents without a library card can get immediate access to the LAPL collections by completing an online e-card application.

"Preserving Honor & Excellence" virtual event presented by Forest Lawn
"Preserving Honor & Excellence" presented by Forest Lawn | Photo: Forest Lawn, Facebook

Forest Lawn Presents "Preserving Honor & Excellence" (Feb. 13, 2021)

Since its founding in 1906, Forest Lawn has been an integral part of the community it serves. The original Forest Lawn location in Glendale has a world-renowned art museum, extraordinary statuary, and the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection which is home to two of the largest religious paintings in the Western hemisphere.

Forest Lawn will mark Black History Month with a highly-anticipated virtual celebration, Preserving Honor & Excellence. This performance of inspirational music, dance, and readings will stream live via Facebook Live starting at noon on Saturday, February 13. The celebration honors Black culture with New Orleans-style jazz; a tap dancing and bucket drumming performance from the Broadway musical Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk; as well as soul and rhythm & blues vocals.

The free online event will feature Michael Ellington as emcee and spiritual keynotes by Pastor Jean Burch from Community Bible Church of Greater Pasadena, and Pastor Geremy Dixon from the First Church of God Center of Hope in Los Angeles.

"Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth." at CAAM
"Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth." at CAAM | Photo: CAAM

"Men of Change" at CAAM

The California African American Museum (CAAM) was founded in 1977 to research, collect, preserve, and interpret for public enrichment the history, art, and culture of African Americans with an emphasis on California and the western United States.

Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. profiles revolutionary men—including Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Kendrick Lamar—whose journeys have altered the history and culture of the country. Their achievements are woven within the legacy and traditions of the African American experience, becoming emblems of excellence in spite of society’s barriers.

In addition to an online walkthrough of the exhibition, upcoming programs include Family Story Time & Collage Workshop (Feb. 17), In Conversation: Quincy Troupe & Erin Aubry Kaplan on Miles Davis (Feb. 18), and Men of Change: A Healing Circle (Feb. 27). You can also watch past In Conversation videos on the CAAM YouTube channel.

Pan African Film & Arts Festival (Feb. 28 - Mar. 14, 2021)

Now in its 28th year, the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) is the largest Black film festival and largest Black History Month cultural event in the United States. Featuring more than 200 Black Films and 100 fine artists from around the world, PAFF is dedicated to racial tolerance through the exhibition of film, art, and creative expression.

Taking place February 28 to March 14, the 2021 virtual experience will feature filmmakers from 45 countries - over 160 filmmakers of African descent, 84 female directors, and 15 LGBTQ+ directors. A special Black History Month screening of Judas and the Black Messiah has been announced for February 9. The full schedule of virtual screenings is TBA.

Single tickets are on a waitlist basis and will go on sale three days prior to the start of the festival on February 28. Panel-Only, Cinema + Panel, and All Access Passes are on sale at the PAFF website.

Virtual African-American Festival at Aquarium of the Pacific
Virtual African-American Festival | Photo: Aquarium of the Pacific

African-American Festival at the Aquarium of the Pacific (Feb. 27, 2021)

On Saturday, February 27, the Aquarium of the Pacific will host its 19th annual African-American Festival as a free online event. Streaming live from 10am to 3:30pm, this virtual event will feature African and African-American music, dance, storytelling, and historical displays. Festival performances will include Mardi Gras second line dancing, hip hop and breakdancing, tap and modern dance, soul-pop fusion music, and West African drumming, dancing, and storytelling. At 3:15pm, the Aquarium will present the Heritage Award to Felton Williams, Ph.D. for his outstanding service to the African-American community. No tickets or RSVPs are required for this free livestreaming event.

Theatre West Presents "WHO I AM"

Established in 1962, Theatre West is an internationally acclaimed nonprofit arts organization and the oldest continuously running theatre company in Los Angeles.

A celebration of African American Heritage, WHO I AM features seven actor-writers from Theatre West sharing their TRUTH about the significance of Black History Month. Unspooling personal stories as well as life lessons learned from their parents and grandparents, they explore the impact of their heritage in shaping the artists they are today. Words and images collide in a frank examination of what it means to be Black in America in the wake of 2020’s call to action.

WHO I AM is now streaming on the Theatre West YouTube channel.

The Huntington Library Presents "Black Matter"

Founded in 1919, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is world-renowned as a cultural, research and educational center.

Part of the Huntington's Ridge Lecture Series, Black Matter features a discussion about the origins of Afrofuturism with Namwali Serpell, professor of literature at Harvard, author of The Old Drift, and recent recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke award for the best science fiction novel published in the UK. Black Matter is now streaming on The Huntington YouTube channel.