WGSAC History

The William Grant Still Arts Center—named after the late Dr. William Grant Still (1895-1978), the highly acclaimed African-American composer who lived in the West Adams neighborhood— was established in 1977 by Los Angeles City Council member David Cunningham in cooperation with its first director Hakim Ali.

Refurbished by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) in cooperation with the neighborhood and local Council District 10, the old fire station— originally built in 1926— was transformed into a community arts center with a central exhibition space in the main rotunda, exhibition/meeting rooms, offices, kitchen, and outdoor patio/amphitheater. The intention was to create an environment to nurture the artistic talents of all members of the community, expose new audiences to the arts, and weave the fabric of art and culture into the tapestry of everyday life.

Notable programs the Center has started include the annual Black Doll Show, the African-American Composers Series of  exhibitions incorporating cultural heritage with arts education, and exhibitions of archives curated directly from the community.

Significant artists have also been featured in exhibitions and programs at the Center. Among the visual artists are many artists whom were featured in the 2011-2012 Pacific Standard Time exhibitions Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 and Places of Validation, Art, and Progression, at the Hammer Museum and California African-American Museum (CAAM) respectively, as well as in the African-American Artists in Los Angeles exhibition series presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs in 2005.

Jazz greats who have presented at the William Grant Still Arts Center include Tootie Heath, Buddy Collette, Kamau Daaood, Phil Ranlin, Phil Wright, and Benny Maupin, among countless others!

This is in keeping with the Center’s musical heritage and namesake Dr. William Grant Still, whose prodigious talent as a groundbreaking classical composer was nurtured in an environment of special encouragement from his parents and mentors, to become one of the greatest conductors of his day. Dr. Still wrote over 150 compositions, including operas, ballets, symphonies, chamber works, and arrangements of folk themes, especially spirituals, as well as instrumental, choral and solo works. “Troubled Island”, the opera Dr. Still wrote with a libretto by Langston Hughes, is immortalized on our building in the alleyway in a 2003 mural created by artist Noni Olabisi, with assistance from Brother Boko. Dr. Still – who coined the term “art music” – considered and used music as a means to achieve cross-cultural understanding.

The programs at William Grant Still Arts Center are free, or as low-cost as possible, in order to welcome all in our community to the visual and performing arts.