Community Inspires Side Street Projects’ Mission and Art

PUSD students explore the Pasadena Robinson Memorial as part of My Masterpieces, a signature program of Side Street Projects

Each arts organization has a story of the unique struggles they have endured during the last 18 months, just as they have stories of unexpected and positive opportunities that emerged. Pasadena’s Side Street Projects is no exception. A community-centered, artist-led organization, Side Street Projects received two PCF grants recently: the Performing & Visual Arts Recovery Grant and a grant from the Rowe & Gayle Giesen Trust, one of PCF’s Funds for Pasadena, which supports visual arts experiences for children and youth. Both grants will help Side Street Projects reconnect with their community and reinvest in their educational programs for students in Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD).

Strong Partnerships and Community Synergy
Socially engaged artist projects, youth education, and artist workshops are at the heart of Side Street Project’s community-centered mission. The culture of working, learning, and sharing together is a defining characteristic of Side Street Projects, so the forced 18-month closure has been especially jarring for the organization. Executive Director Emily Hopkins summarizes it simply: “Being able to give at-risk youth hands-on experiences is so core to what we do. We bring people together through in-person art making, and we can’t do that right now. And that’s so hard.”

Executive Director Emily Hopkins, pictured prior to the pandemic, at work with students inside Side Street Projects’ shipping container classroom, which PCF funded in 2016.

Equitable access to the arts is also tightly woven into Side Street’s mission, and to that end, the organization serves more than 1,000 adults and 4,000 children each year. My Masterpieces, which is supported by the Giesen Trust, is one of its centerpiece programs, pairing the organization’s teaching artists with each PUSD 2nd Grade classroom. In a normal schoolyear, the artists lead the young students on field trips of Pasadena’s public art and, back in the classroom, they develop collaborative public art pieces for each school together.

Side Street Projects remained operational during the pandemic by leveraging its strong partnerships with organizations and individuals throughout the Pasadena-Altadena area. “We just tried to look for the synergy in supporting one another, recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Emily explains. Its mission to connect with the community continued with adaptations that included transitioning My Masterpieces to a fun and age-appropriate “Virtual Tour” and reimagining its artist-in-residency program to continue facilitating community dialog. The latter included an innovative initiative called Queerantine Sanctuary, created as a virtual safe space for local LGBTQIA+ teens to cope with the myriad experiences of isolation they felt during this time. “This project truly saved lives,” Emily emphasizes.

Grants Will Support Educational Programs and “the New Normal”
“Side Street Projects will use PCF’s Arts Recovery Grant to reinvest back into its educational programs and right back into Pasadena,” Emily says, “We’ve been very focused right now on the grassroots. And that’s the nice thing about unrestricted support for an agile organization like us. It really gives us the ability to turn and then dig into where the community tells us they need us the most.”

The arts are always a vital aspect of any community, but Emily reminds us that at this moment, the arts are especially critical as we collectively grapple with the pandemic and its ever-evolving impacts. “We really need to look to the artists right now to help us move through this period and through this grief, this liminal space, because there are a lot of opportunities to rebuild the new normal and make it better.”