Bringing Arts Masterpieces to Life for All Students: A Pasadena Strategic Planning Success Story

Guest author: Peggy Burt, Senior Advisor, Arts Planning Initiative

The Challenge: How to create a greater impact in arts education by connecting to your local arts organizations and city 

The Strategy: Use a strategic arts plan to provide a framework for arts education throughout your district and city

The Story: How many times have you driven by a piece of public art or a local museum without taking the time to stop and really see the work? 

Pasadena is a special place - rich with arts and creativity. But we asked ourselves, “How do we share these riches with the school district? 

In 2003, the Pasadena Unified School District began a strategic planning process to strengthen arts education district-wide.  The team came together to create a comprehensive arts plan to provide dance, music, theatre and visual arts education to all students, K-12 within the school day.  In partnership with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission: Arts for All and the California Alliance for Arts Education, the district received a coach and planning assistance. As the comprehensive arts plan moved into implementation, the team asked “How can we create an authentic connection between the school district, our city, and our arts organizations in support of arts education?”

In 2006, under the guidance of the VAPA Coordinator, an effort began to create a coordinated visual arts curriculum called, My Masterpieces: Discovering Art in My Community. This program matches community visual arts organizations and museums with specific grade levels, aligned to curriculum with content standards. 

My Masterpieces: Discovering Art in My Community is now an award-winning program, administered by the Pasadena Educational Foundation, and operated in partnership with Pasadena Unified School District and eleven museums and arts organizations.  The program serves every K-6 student in PUSD, providing community-based arts learning opportunities for over 9,000 students and 400 teachers in Altadena, Pasadena, and Sierra Madre. California Alliance Board Member Joan Palmer, who also serves on the board of the Pasadena Educational Foundation, said, "We unified the experience between our children and our adults, by including all the cultural sites for both populations. 'My Masterpieces' made curriculum out of community."

My Masterpieces Up Close: Public Art and Side Street Projects
We caught up with PUSD second grade students, from Jackson STEAM Magnet Academy who recently went on the City of Pasadena Public Art Walking Tour to see public art in Pasadena, including Gywnn Murrill's Bighorn Fountain. Rochelle Branch, Cultural Affairs Manager of the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division, stated, “Public art is generally integrated within the built environment, so it may not be recognized in the same way as art in our museums.  We are gratified that it provokes a level of “everyday” engagement, where the art is right within the neighborhood.  We believe that this supports a greater level of civic engagement.”

Teaching artists from Pasadena’s Side Street Projects led students on “Tour 1” The Pasadena Way where they delved into the concept and purpose of public art.  The Side Street artists then returned with the students to the classroom.  Each student drew their own “Local Animal” based on Murrill's Bighorn Fountain.  Students drew bluebirds, cats, owls, and an assortment of other animals culled from their knowledge of animals local to our region.

The Creative Process
Side Streets Project artist Blue Broxton said, "You're working with real materials, it's not going to be perfect, because that's the artist's process.  We want to see what happens and how to experiment”.  As one student said,  "I see different things in the image now" after observing how the grain of the wood affected the image.  All the pieces were put together to make a planter.

Creation of an arts plan leads to authentic connections in the classroom with students and teachers!

Students said, the artists “taught me not to ever give up…they told us if we mess up, we could try again.  You try again until you get it.” 

Pasadena’s newest initiative is “Open Stage”.  With funds for planning from the National Endowment for the Arts, a team has been assembled to address the challenge of creating authentic connections between the Pasadena performing arts organizations and the district for the middle school and high school years. Stay tuned!

See how an arts plan can transform your district and community! 

Peggy Burt, Senior Advisor, California Alliance for Arts Education, Arts Planning Initiative and Jen Olson, District Arts Education Coordinator, Pasadena Unified School District.  With thanks to the Pasadena Educational Foundation, City of Pasadena Public Art Walking Tour, and Rochelle Branch, Cultural Affairs Manager, City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.

For information about strategic planning through the Alliance Arts Planning Initiative available to districts statewide, contact Peggy Burt at