Suzanne Lacy Project in Allensworth, California

The Allensworth Project

Allensworth, California

Summer 2022


Social Practice-based art courses are attracting a new generation of activist artists. In this project of the USC Roski School of Art and Design Graduate Program, Lacy and a group of nine master’s and doctorate level students partnered with local residents to provide high schoolers, the children of agriculture workers, with an art/ecology project.


Allensworth, today a hamlet of 500 people in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is both a small “town” and an adjacent California State Park memorializing the original town site. Founded in 1908 by Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth, the town was the state’s first to be founded, inhabited and governed entirely by African Americans. In its heyday, Allensworth had a thriving Baptist church, a hotel, a public library, and several stores, with its own governance. Over time, the population dwindled, and the discovery that the limited water supply was contaminated with arsenic caused remaining residents to drift away by the 1960s. Today, however, a team of local residents, community activists and artists from across the state is involved in economic development and environmental justice efforts and working on basic community infrastructure, including water management and youth development.


Deeply inspired by this work a scant thirty miles from where she grew up, Lacy and PhD candidate, designer and artist Romi Morrison developed a sprawling six-week curriculum that included historical racism in California, Black land ownership/farming, youth development, and the complexities of community organizing and service. USC students worked with the Allensworth Progressive Association and the youth to support and visualize imaginative response and creative expression of a future for Allensworth, and left the community with a set of plans and resources drawn from their time there.