When Pasadena Unified School District sent students home in March, the Armory followed the District's lead. It became quickly evident to the Armory's leadership team that this pandemic wasn't ending anytime soon. The 32-year-old community art center faced a daunting task: how do you provide meaningful art experiences to your community when you can't be in the same room together, and how do you sustain that... indefinitely? The Armory's values of collaboration, creativity, social justice, resilience, and a belief in the transformative power of art held the answer.
By the end of March, the Armory completely reinvented how it delivered programs and services. Leveraging their team's digital expertise, the Armory began producing a steady stream of virtual programming. This included Instagram Live performances from their galleries, Zoom art classes for all ages, virtual poetry readings, publication release events, and a series of social media "art challenges" and "how-to" videos designed for struggling parents who were suddenly homeschooling.
At the core of the Armory's mission is a deep commitment to social justice through unfettered access to quality arts education. This is exemplified by longstanding partnerships with health and human service organizations, regional cultural institutions, and civic agencies, notably Pasadena's Libraries, Parks Department, and the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). Over several months of quarantine, the Armory built on lessons learned from the initial weeks of virtual programs to keep these partnerships thriving, especially for PUSD.
With support from the U.S. Department of Education, the Armory was poised to continue a 5-year project with Altadena Elementary, and arts magnet school in PUSD. Then, the pandemic hit. Teaching artists could no longer visit classrooms and deliver the Armory's "Artful Connections with Science" curriculum. So, they transformed into a video production team.
Over the course of summer, ten Armory teaching artists adapted eight weeks of lessons for three separate grade levels at Altadena Elementary into 50 short videos—a feature film's worth of broadcast-quality content made on smartphones and laptops. To enhance these on-demand lessons, the team created stop motion sequences featuring sock puppet "emcees" to keep students entertained as they explored the intersections of art and science.
"We have enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the Armory as thought partners and practitioners of arts integration through Science" observed Dr. Benita Scheckel, Principal of Altadena Elementary. "We are proud to collaborate with such a pillar of the Pasadena arts community."
Though vaccine news is promising, the Armory will continue producing virtual art experiences for the long haul—even after quarantine is lifted. "Our community sees the value in the online content we've produced since March, and we see how it can enhance our exhibitions and education programs once in-person gatherings are possible again," said Armory Executive Director Leslie A. Ito. "We've made new friends from across the U.S. and as far away as Australia" she continued. "They've attended virtual events and are now part of the Armory community. The irony of social distancing is how it's made us closer in unexpected ways."
Top Image: Armory Teaching Artist Austyn de Lugo explains the concept of Asymetry as it relates to both art and science in a pre-recorded lesson for Altadena Elementary.
Bottom Image: Sock puppet character emcees designed by Armory Teaching Artist Naomi Fox for the Altadena Elementary video series.