Transforming Lives Through Art

A decommissioned National Guard armory, designed specifically to keep people out, has spent nearly 70 years coming to bloom as a focal point in Pasadena where everyone is welcome to gather and appreciate art.   

From the street, the building gives the impression of an indestructible stronghold. Tall, thick, gray walls authenticate the fortified structure. The building itself serves as a striking contrast to the sounds of children laughing inside while they paint and play, and a view of impossibly delicate sculptures and paintings through the windows.

Within the building lies a maze of free exhibits with a shared focus of, “inspiring dialogue around visual culture and contemporary life, contributing to global discourses in contemporary art and introducing contemporary visual art to Pasadena,” said Jon Lapointe, Armory director of communications.

Lapointe said the center has exhibited collections and works from profound artists who work in the realm of social justice and beyond, including some of Tim Hawkinson’s first solo museum shows, public projects by Yoko Ono and a Rose Bowl performance for 5,000 spectators by Richard Jackson, who crashed a radio-controlled model military airplane filled with paint into a 20-foot wall, that read “Accidents in Abstract Painting.”

While the Armory features works that are in tune with the center’s mission to transform lives through the arts, Lapointe said at the center of that mission is, “a deep commitment to social justice through arts education.”

Throughout the year, the gallery doubles as a host to studio art classes for all ages where kids can learn, play and express themselves simultaneously. The center’s executive director, Leslie Ito, herself a previous workshop student, says the facility is so passionate about its mission, ardent teachers also offer hundreds of free art classes for the community’s youth in schools, parks, libraries, community centers and juvenile detention centers throughout Southern California.

“(We are) focused on bringing together people from all backgrounds to authentically collaborate, contribute and thrive,” Ito said.

Lapointe said in addition to the armory’s transformation, the last 70 years have also brought about a wave of reputable art museums, cultural institutions, and non-profit arts organizations to Pasadena.

“One other magical thing about this critical mass of nonprofit arts and culture organizations: we all collaborate, respect and genuinely like each other. No competition. We are all on the same team,” Lapointe said.

Being part of that team, Lapointe added, also comes with the responsibility of engaging in work that contributes to diversity and inclusion efforts.

Rather than developing a single committee toward such endeavors, the future for the Armory includes devoting entiretly of the institution’s efforts toward social justice.

“The Armory is on a journey to make this work part of our organizational DNA. We understand this is a process, and it will take time, courage, persistence, and commitment. This is a journey we are ready for. This is the Armory’s future,” Lapointe said.

Armory Center for the Arts
145 N. Raymond Avenue, Pasadena