Sun, May

The Underground Museum is a hidden gem

Gallery Manager Brooklyn Sabino Smith sits in front of a photo of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans (circa 1899), reading “The Color of Law,” which is about the ways that major cities in the U.S. became racially segregated. Photos by Jason Lewis


This cultural art center in Arlington Heights features paintings, film screenings, lectures, dance performances, and yoga classes.

Artists of Color is the current exhibit at The Underground Museum.


By Tracy Edwards

There is a critically-acclaimed art museum on Washington Blvd. in Arlington Heights that most people in the community drive by without noticing that it is there.  There is no sign at the entrance of what appears to be a storefront between 5th Ave. and 6th Ave., not too far east of Crenshaw Blvd., making it easy to miss The Underground Museum.

For community members who are aware of this museum, it is a cultural art center.  For the art world, it is a lasting memory of African American artist Noah Davis, who passed away from a rare form of cancer in 2015.  Davis was only 32 years old.  

Davis was a rising star when he passed away.  He and his wife Karon opened the Underground Museum in 2012.  They wanted to bring what he called "museum-quality art" to a traditionally African American and Latino working-class neighborhood.  

Upon opening, the museum received praise from many artist and art critics.  Davis was able to establish a partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which allowed the Underground Museum to showcase artwork from MOCA’s permanent collection.  

The name of the museum is a double entendre, according to Gallery Manager Brooklyn Sabino Smith.

“They’re (the Davis’) connected to the history of African Americans in this country, which includes The Underground Railroad,” she said.  “And also speak to the secretness, or the hiddeness of the Underground Museum.”  

This museum, curated by Davis’ brother Kahlil Joseph, features contemporary art work that can be found in high-end museums, but they are changing the way that people interact with this type of art space.

“We’re really interested in reframing and re-energizing the way people interact with the museum space,” said Justin Leroy, public programs manager.  “Especially people of color, because going into those spaces can be extremely cold and sterile, and people do not really communicate what is actually happening.”



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The Underground Museum achieves this by being a community center.  

“What we’re aiming for is to make sure that through the access of art, we’re ultimately uplifting and educating our community with hopes that they’ll be more encouraged to find their creativity, and to know that there is a place for it,” Leroy said.

There are film screens every Friday night.  “I Am Not Your Negro,” the award-winning documentary on the life and work of writer James Baldwin, was showcased earlier this year.

Special guest speakers are invited to hold discussions.  Earlier this year, political activist Angela Davis spoke to a crowd of over 300 people.  

“Everybody had a chance to have a moment with her,” Leroy said.

There are dance performances and Thursday evening yoga classes in the Purple Garden behind the museum.  Davis’ favorite color was purple, and this tranquil garden features purple flowers.  The film screenings and discussions are held in this garden.

The purple garden is behind the museum. Movie screenings, lectures, and yoga are held here.

The museum has a bookstore that showcases the triumphs and struggles of black people in America.  

The bookstore holds literature that showcases the triumphs and struggles of black people in America.

The Underground Museum is a hidden gem that delivers so much to the community.  The museum is located at 3508 W. Washington Blvd.  Contact them at (323) 989-9925, visit their website at www.theunderground-museum.org, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.  

Admission is free, and the museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.


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