The History and Biography of The LAA

Biography/History


The League of Allied Arts is one of the oldest existing Black women’s non-profit arts organizations in Los Angeles. 

Founded in 1939 by Dorothy Vena Johnson, a poet and creative writing teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and Juanita Miller, a social worker for the County of Los Angeles and wife of distinguished civil rights attorney Loren Miller, the League of Allied Arts was established to support and promote the arts in Los Angeles. Langston Hughes was one of the League’s first beneficiaries. When the young Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright came to Los Angeles to visit friends, he wanted to present a play. However, due to racism, no theater would allow Hughes to present his work. 

The industrious and civic-minded Juanita Miller and Dorothy Vena Johnson thereby pooled their resources together to help support Langston Hughes successfully present his play, Don’t You Want to Be Free? at his recently established New Negro Theater. From this experience, Johnson and Miller went on to officially establish the League of Allied Arts whose mission is to promote and support the arts in Los Angeles. 

The League provides cultural enrichment programs for the community, honors the creative accomplishments of Black artists, and awards scholarships to talented students from Los Angeles pursuing scholarly studies in the arts. The League estimates that since its inception it has given away over $500,000 in scholarships and charitable donations to students and various organizations in Los Angeles and nationwide.

The League of Allied Arts is a volunteer organization with a long history of distinguished membership and leadership. In addition to Juanita Miller and co-founder Dorothy Vena Johnson, who served as the League’s president for over 25 years, another notable and early member of the League of Allied Arts was Miriam Matthews, the first credentialed Black librarian in the state of California and a librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library.

The League of Allied Arts has provided numerous cultural enrichment programs for the Los Angeles community since its founding, awarding its first scholarships in the early 1940s. In the same decade, the League was part of a consortium of community organizations that promoted Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, a sequence of paintings depicting the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North between World War I and World War II. The paintings were lent by the Museum of Modern Art and presented at the Music Town Gallery in Los Angeles. The League also sponsored The Art of Aaron Douglas exhibit at the Chabot Art Gallery on Robertson Boulevard.

In the 1950s, the League presented a poetry reading by Langston Hughes with accompaniment by the Buddy Collette Quintet. In addition, the League donated funds to the Lester Horton Dance School, Our Author’s Study Club, and the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP.

During the 1960s, the League honored William Grant Still on his 70th birthday at the Los Angeles Music Center, donated funds to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and purchased a seat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The League joined the Ahmanson Foundation, Charles Drew Medical Society Auxiliary, and the Los Angeles chapter of the Links in providing funds for the presentation of a Richard Hunt sculpture at LACMA in the 1970s.

In the 1980s, the League sponsored the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood and honored artists Richmond Barthe, Melonee Blocker, Elizabeth Catlett, Alonzo Davis, Maren Massinger, Varnette Honeywood, William Pajaud, Betye Saar, Ruth Waddy, and Yvonne Meo, who was also a member of the League.

In 2000 the membership of the League of Allied Arts traveled to Paris, and in 2009 it celebrated its 70th anniversary by hosting a reception in honor of actor Laurence Fishburne for his performance in the play Thurgood which was presented at the Geffen Playhouse. The League made tickets available for 100 students to see the play and discuss their experience.

The League of Allied Arts remains a pillar in the Los Angeles community by continuing to support and promote the arts.