Art in the making

Art in the making

Armory Center for the Arts celebrates 25 years with a tribute to Susan and John Caldwell

By Carl Kozlowski 04/02/2014

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Growing up in Pasadena, Susan Caldwell developed an early love for art while enjoying student programs at the Pasadena Art Museum. It was there that she took classes led by artists whose teaching concepts grew out of the museum’s exhibitions of modern art. She eventually met her husband, furniture designer John Caldwell, there as well. 

This Saturday, the arts power couple will be the guests of honor as the Armory celebrates its 25th anniversary with a gala dinner filled with cocktails and a strolling supper. Looking back on a quarter-century of hosting innovative arts classes and innovative exhibitions, Susan Caldwell recalled the day when she and a hardy band of other local arts patrons heeded the call from the late arts patron Rowe Giesen to roll up their sleeves and start their own attempt to save the arts for Pasadena’s youth and non-elite community.  

“Rowe gathered friends together in the abandoned school yard of Lincoln School,” says Caldwell. “We sat on broken benches, amidst dirt, leaves and shattered glass, and explored how Rowe’s trust fund could be the catalyst for the creation of a new children’s art installation. Rowe had a vision, and the Pasadena Arts Workshops was born.” 

The Workshops formed partnerships with schools, libraries, parks, neighborhood groups, community centers and city agencies to bring the arts to new audiences. And after 15 years of growth, they moved to the former National Guard Armory on North Raymond Avenue in Old Pasadena after a city-appointed task force reached out to Susan Caldwell with the opportunity to take over a 20,000-square-foot space that provided room for art studios, workshops and galleries. 

After 13 years, the Armory spent $2.4 million to expand into an additional 6,800 square feet of classroom and studio space for drawing and painting, digital arts and photography. 

But perhaps the biggest indicator of the Armory’s success has been the fact its annual attendance has grown from 40,000 attendees in 1989 to 100,000 last year. 

“We’re very excited about the 25th anniversary, and it allows us to celebrate our ability to transform the community and individuals’ lives,” says Armory Center Executive Director Scott Ward.  “I think it makes an opportunity for us all to get along better, for youths to transform how they see themselves for the better and the community as a whole.

“Susan and John have been involved in the entire life of the Armory,” Ward continues. “She was the first person to see this building and have the vision that this funky old building had the capacity to become the Armory. She’s been the most loyal and excited member in the history of the Armory, and John has been a financial and emotional supporter from the get-go, and it’s the kind of consistent support 
that allows us to thrive.” 

The Armory Center for the Arts 25th Anniversary Gala is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $150. Visit armoryarts.org/armory25 or call (626) 792-5101 x118. 

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