Established in 1977, the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Los Angeles, CA, is dedicated 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”. Chartered by the State of California — the first African American museum of art, history, and culture fully supported by a state — its permanent collection consists of over 4,000 objects ranging from the 1800s to the present and includes paintings, photographs, film, sculpture, historical documents, and artifacts. CAAM recently introduced a new identity designed by LA-based Julia Luke Design.
[One of the goals was to] create a timeless identity, one that would have its foundation rooted not only in CAAM’s independent and rich history, but fundamentally in the art, history, and culture of African Americans, California, and at it’s heart—Los Angeles.
To achieve a rich and complex visual identity, we drew from a broad selection of inspiration. The unique logo letterforms come directly from activism graphics, most notably the iconic “I Am a Man” poster that figured prominently in the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike.
The sun references several icons of modern and contemporary art and life, including murals at the Mafundi Institute, the cultural academy that was the center of an African American renaissance in Los Angeles after the 1965 Watts Rebellion.
Julia Luke Design provided text
The old logo was okay, with a wordmark that abstractly and broadly alluded to African motifs in pattern and color. I like how it was integrated with the full name behind a thick underline but the overall vibe was very 1980s and was starting to look dated. The new logo has much more personality and feels like a more contemporary institution. There are two competing visual elements that sometimes work great together and sometimes not so much depending on how they are locked-up. Both are kind of great on their own, starting with the wordmark that directly references the “I am a Man” broadsides, repurposing the letters to create a raw, energetic, and bold typographic statement for the museum. The wordmark even retains the imperfect contours of the original, making the wordmark more… human. I wish the two “A”s were ever so slightly different — that would have been full method.
The other element is a wobbly sun with a marked gradient that I want to like more than I actually do. There is something interesting about it, but either the color combination or the outermost shape is somehow off. I also don’t know that, upon seeing it, I think “museum!” and maybe it feels too arid for California… like, New Mexico or Arizona, sure, but the color palette is missing some of the upbeat-ness of the West Coast. Nonetheless, it’s an icon rooted in the subject and in application has some great moments.
Oh, and I almost forgot, the icon and wordmark are paired with the full name of the institution in Akzidenz Grotesk, which I guess is one way out but would have loved to see a more interesting sans serif. Although I agree there is a certain ruggedness to Akzidenz Grotesk that goes well with the tough wordmark.
In application the sun and wordmark work best when they are either completely separated as in the business cards or layered one on top of the other as in the exterior. The in-between state as in the banners is where I feel it’s less successful, although those split banners are very nicely resolved! Overall, this is a really strong update with great points of reference built into the logo and a couple of striking identity elements that make the museum easily identifiable and distinct from others.