John Outterbridge (b. 1933 Greenville, NC) is a Los Angeles based artist working primarily in assemblage. Outerbridge has been an influential educator, community activist, and participant in the Black Arts movement in Southern California throughout his ongoing career. He took up this role soon after moving to Los Angeles upon graduating from the Academy of Art in Chicago. Much of Outterbridge's work deals with oppressive realities the black community faced (and continues to face) in Los Angeles, including quickening impoverishment as a result of deindustrialization, police brutality, job discrimination, and a deficit of educational and artistic resources. The Watts Rebellion which broke out in 1965 greatly influenced Outterbridge particularly because of his relationship to Noah Purifoy whose work in the exhibition 66 Signs of Neon marked the beginning of a public commitment to community building and his assemblage work.style="margin: 0px; line-height: normal;">In the early 1970’s Outerbridge worked with the city of Compton to develop an arts education program called Compton Communicative Art Academy (CCAA) which received state and local funding to teach community classes in art of all disciplines. After working at the CCAA, Outterbridge took up the role of art director at the Watts Towers Art Center in 1975 succeeding Noah Purifoy. The Watts Towers Art Center held enormous sway in the black community in L.A. as an alternative form of self-governance and self-determination. Community involvement meant that Outterbridge was not distantly connected to black radicalism. Education was a contested arena as proven by the shooting of Southern California Black Panther Party president Alprentice Carter at UCLA by another black radical organization when he was helping coordinate leadership for a new Black Studies Program. Outterbridge has said of his involvement in arts education programs in Compton and Watts, “‘in a way, we were all panthers.’”
While in many ways Outterbridge’s work as an educator fit neatly within revolutionary nationalist constructs of community organizing and empowerment, his actual work, with its African motifs and references to black mythology/spiritual practice, aligns more closely with cultural nationalism. The division between revolutionary and cultural nationalism was a source of conflict and debate within the black community in L.A. and nationwide; however, the distinction between the two was somewhat artificial. Outterbridge assumes a unique place at the junction of revolutionary and cultural nationalism. His career and work reveal a symbiosis between these two branches of black activism at the time.