Armory Center for the Arts Executive Director Scott Ward Announces Retirement

Published : Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | 4:08 PM

Armory Center for the Arts Executive Director Scott Ward has announced his retirement from the nationally-recognized contemporary arts center following a 17-year tenure there dedicated to leading a community arts education movement in Pasadena and beyond.

Ward said his final day as Executive Director will be June 30, 2018.

Under his leadership, the Armory Center for the Arts has become one of the Los Angeles region’s leading independent institutions for contemporary art exhibitions and community arts education.

“It’s a great moment for me, a great opportunity to explore other horizons, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Armory to find a great leader,” Ward said, “to build them into the organization they’ll be in the next 17 years.”

Over the course of his nearly two decades at the Armory’s helm Ward was able to significantly increase the institution’s endowment, operating budget, geographic reach, and breadth of service, and to deepen the Armory’s commitment to delivering meaningful art experiences to underserved populations, both in Pasadena and throughout greater Los Angeles.

He is only the second Executive Director in the Armory’s 28-year history, succeeding founding director Elisa Callow in 2001.

Ironically, Ward’s first day on the job was “move out” day at the Armory, the start of a year-long, $2.4 million renovation project which added 6,800 square feet of administrative and classroom space to the organization’s Old Town Pasadena facility—a 1930s National Guard Armory initially rehabilitated in 1989.

To facilitate the extensive renovations, Ward’s task was to temporarily relocate the entire organization to the former Highland Plastics factory on Fair Oaks Avenue in Northwest Pasadena, a city-owned, 65,000 square foot industrial space situated on the current site of Robinson Park’s football field.

With minimal interruption of programming, “Armory Northwest” quickly transformed into a vibrant cultural hub in the historically underserved neighborhood of Northwest Pasadena.

“Scott’s commitment and creativity make him a perfect leader at the Armory, which is one of Pasadena’s most significant cultural organizations. He made sure the Armory performed its commitment to young people and, over time, he delivered what the institution has to offer not only at the Armory, but also at venues in the neighborhoods of the City,” said former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard.

In addition to exhibitions, performances, and art workshops, Ward saw this “temporary” building as a future resource for the community.

Through a series of strategic partnerships, Armory Northwest evolved into a vital satellite facility for the next 6 years, operating in conjunction with the newly-renovated Old Pasadena center, according to a press release.

Ward began inviting smaller arts and culture nonprofits to share the massive warehouse space, with the notion that greater impact would be achieved through collective action that included Adam’s Forge, Filmmakers’ Alliance, the Latino Heritage Association, Pasadena Arts Council, and Side Street Projects.

“Part of the contribution that the Armory brings is a commitment to experimentation, a commitment to new, a commitment to bringing those communities together. Without the armory, the ability to see contemporary art, a broad-spectrum of contemporary art here in Pasadena would be a bit diminished,” said Ward.

According to City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Manager Rochelle Branch, the Armory has exerted significant and positive influence in city-wide art initiatives.

The Armory was a major partner for the City of Pasadena’s National Endowment For The Arts Art Town Grant and several other public arts and arts education projects that include mural development, hosting the LA County Cultural Equity Initiative meetings, and more.

“The Armory really serves not only as the city’s premier arts education organization but also as a presenter of contemporary art in town. So many of their initiative and their school programs have reached deeper into our community,” said Branch.

Ward also propelled the Armory’s mission into the Pasadena Unified School District.

“The Armory has always had a close relationship with Pasadena Unified School District. I think in Scott’s tenure, we really embarked upon some large-scale strategic partnerships,” said Pasadena Unified School District Art Coordinator, Jen Olsen.

A notable example, according to Olsen, occurred when Pasadena Unified received a grant from the US Department of Education to provide professional development training to the majority of 2nd and 3rd-grade teachers.

“That’s much more than just going on a field trip or having a teaching artist in the classroom. It was a program that we co-designed so that we could make a strategic impact on the school districts,” said Olsen. “The Armory came in and really helped teachers feel like they have the confidence that they could do it.”

“They brought a level of expertise,” added Olsen.

Other partnership highlights during Ward’s tenure include artWORKS Teen Center located in East Pasadena, an experimental continuation high school for in-crisis youth and offers free after-school classes for middle school and high school students in sound engineering, guitar performance, aerosol art, screen printing, photography, life drawing, and media arts.

The teen center is a collaboration between the Armory and Learning Works Charter School and is taught by Armory Teaching Artists.

Also in collaboration with Learning Works Charter School, the Armory provides free art classes at a continuation high school in Boyle Heights

“We’ve been able to take art into communities and not expect everyone to come to our ‘white box’ in downtown Pasadena. We’ve been able to take programs that ripple out from the Armory, geographically,” said Ward.

Students are clients of Homeboy Industries, the world-renowned social enterprise organization that provides counseling, legal services, tattoo removal, GED classes, job training, and employment services for former gang members and the recently incarcerated.

Craig Watson, past-Director of the California Arts Council and the Armory’s founding Board President, said that under Ward’s guidance the Armory practiced exemplary community engagement.

“The largest percentage of the Armory’s programs happen outside of the building on Raymond [Avenue], and what that tells me is the Armory is deeply committed to community engagement,” Watson said. “It’s not them sitting back within four walls and expecting people to come to them.”

“It’s really about engaging a community in a role of creativity, community engagement, social justice. These are all things that are important to our community, and the Armory is a model for that type of engagement,” Watson added.

In November of 2015, Ward represented the Armory’s Art High program at a White House ceremony, accepting the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama — an accolade the White House calls the highest honor for after-school art programs in the Nation.

Under Ward’s leadership, the Armory’s Art High program has made free after-school art classes and mentorship opportunities readily accessible to teens at parks, schools, and community centers since 2006.

First presented in 1998, the award is the signature program of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The Armory presented more than 100 critically-acclaimed contemporary art exhibitions under Ward’s leadership that have introduced contemporary visual art to Pasadena, Southern California, and beyond.

“Scott has been a terrific force at the Armory Center and in our community. I was always impressed by the creative insight he brought to discussions and his legacy certainly has imprinted itself on the Armory,” said Tom Coston, President of The Light Bringer Project.

The roster of exhibition highlights is studded with ambitious public projects from artists like Daniel Buren, Yoko Ono, Martin Kersels, and the late Chris Burden; surveys showcasing work by Jill Giegerich, Jirayr Zorthian, Richard Feynman, Steve Roden, Robert Rauschenberg, and Connie Samaras; two Getty-initiated Pacific Standard Time exhibitions; and public performance for 5,000 spectators at Brookside Park in Pasadena by artist Richard Jackson, who flew and crashed a radio-controlled, model military plane with a fifteen-foot wingspan (filled with paint) into a twenty-foot wall bearing the inscription “Accidents in Abstract Painting.”

“Working with the Armory has been really a magical experience for me,” Ward said. “It’s a group of people both staff and board that are interested in exciting ideas. interested in the untested, interested in innovating, and combining that with the culture in the city, has really allowed us to authentically make a difference,” said Ward.

According to the Armory Board President, Maria Kader Karp, the Board is officially in full search mode for a new executive director.

“We have been incredibly fortunate to have had Scott’s leadership these last 17 years, and we wish him a fun-filled retirement,” said Karp. “He has really transformed the Armory into a thriving arts organization at the local, state, and national level,” Karp added.

By early December, the Board expects to decide upon a national search firm to find the Armory’s third executive director.

“I look forward to, from the sidelines, really rooting that person on, being a good cheerleader and staying out of that person’s way in terms of energy and vision,” said Ward.

The Armory will honor and celebrate Ward’s legacy at the organization’s annual gala in April.

“The ability to make art, travel, spend more time with my family are all super important to me. We have all complicated lives and there’s lots and lots for me to do from the sidelines. I know that the Armory will thrive in the future,” said Ward.

For more information about the Armory Center for the Arts, go to