The Arts, Science and Philanthrophy, Pasadena Hallmarks All, Converge at Tonight's AxS Gold Crown Awards

Published : Tuesday, October 10, 2017 | 5:19 AM

Left: Carolyn and Craig Watson; Top Right: Stephen McCurry; Bottom Right: David Wilson, photo by Lena Herzog

In an evening which celebrates the far-reaching and rich fields of the Pasadena arts and sciences landscape, philanthropists Carolyn and Craig Watson, Pasadena Conservatory of Music Executive Director Stephen McCurry, along with David Wilson and the Museum of Jurassic Technology, are to be honored Tuesday as recipients of Pasadena Arts Council’s 2017 Gold Crown and AxS awards at ArtCenter’s South Campus Rooftop Garden.

The Pasadena Arts Council has been honoring individuals and organizations for their contributions to the region’s cultural landscape in an annual awards ceremony since 1965.

As Pasadena Arts Council Executive and Artistic Director Robert Crouch explained in an interview Friday, “The Arts Council and its Board of Trustees selects individuals or organizations that they feel have made a significant contribution to the cultural landscape of Pasadena.”

Honoree Carolyn Watson, an internationally recognized designer and restoration specialist, has developed projects locally and internationally, including Art Center’s Europe campus and its original Pasadena campus. She was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year honors from Professional Child Development Associates of Pasadena in 2015, and founded the Carolyn Watson Arts Scholarship program.

Meanwhile, Craig served as the Director of the California Arts Council from August 2011 through March 2017, where he was instrumental in shepherding the resurgence of California’s state arts agency. Craig was able to effect an increase in CAC’s funding from $5 million to nearly $25 million, taking on a number of new initiatives to serve veterans, at-risk youth, after-school arts, and creative placemaking.

McCurry will be honored with the Gold Crown for his leadership and artistic vision for the Pasadena Conservatory of Music. McCurry, who has served as the Executive Director of the Pasadena Conservatory of Music since 1992, has grown the conservatory from a small, local education program into an independent nationally-accredited music school enrolling approximately 1,250 student annually and providing outreach programs to an additional 3.000 students. The Conservatory now offers a comprehensive, classically-oriented curriculum for students of all ages and presents over 100 recitals, concerts and master classes yearly.

David Wilson and the Museum of Jurassic Technology are to be presented with the AxS award, which “celebrates the textured conversations between the sciences and the arts that is both emblematic of Pasadena’s history, and equally fused with its future,” according to the official announcement.

Wilson founded The Museum of Jurassic Technology in 1984, which chronicles an uncommon history of expression and innovation in the arts, humanities and sciences. He was also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his work with the Museum, which highlights the intersection of arts, science and individuals.

According to Pasadena Arts Council’s Crouch, the Gold Crown Award has been a Pasadena tradition for about 50 years, and was intended was intended to acknowledge the artistic and philanthropic contributions of Pasadena residents to the arts.

The first Gold Crown Awards were given in 1965, with the Council creating a second award called the “AxS Award,” in 2012.

“This was given to individuals or organizations who made a significant contribution to the intersection of art and science. That’s something that Pasadena Arts Council feels very strongly about,” said Crouch.

The first 2012 AxS award winner was Dr. Charles Elachi, the Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the time.

“What the Arts Council is invested in,” Crouch noted, “is precisely that intersection between art and science, which is something that happens in abundance here in Pasadena because of places like Caltech and JPL and the Huntington and the Carnegie Observatories.

“It’s really quite a special place and many of those institutions share a very collaborative spirit and they’re really interested in reaching out to the public in a variety of ways.”

Thus, said Crouch, “There’s been a focus a bit more on philanthropy than artists; in many ways we’ve kind of exhausted the list of artists, in that we’ve pretty much honored most of the artists in Pasadena already.”

Speaking to the larger picture of support for the arts, Crouch, who has led the Council since 2015, offered, “Pasadena is a unique city in that there is, I would say, an incredible number of philanthropists in Pasadena, and that’s something that Pasadena’s known for, and it’s something that, working at the Arts Council, I am very aware of. Just being a curator in arts administrator in the greater Los Angeles area, I know that a significant amount of funding for the arts is generated from the city of Pasadena, from its citizens.”

Crouch continued, “The AxS awards is less about Pasadena as it is about the field of art and science. It’s important to us because we are in Pasadena. I think that’s where the original excitement generated from, but we’re not necessarily looking towards people who are just based in Pasadena or have a connection to Pasadena. That said, I did learn in the Museum of Jurassic technology, that it originally started as a film series in Pasadena,” for example.

Crouch assumed the official leadership of the Arts Council in 2015, with a background as an artist, curator and an arts administrator.

“My focus, artistically,” he said, “has always been around the convergence of media and performance and arts and sounds. So a lot of that ties in directly with Pasadena Arts Council’s mission around art and science. That was why I was brought in originally as the director of artist programs.

As Crouch explained, “The Arts Council started off as this grassroots volunteer organization, and it was that way for most of its time. That was about very well-intentioned local residents who wanted to make sure that there were resources for the arts in Pasadena, a kind of broad-based advocacy for the arts in Pasadena and highlighting accomplishments of Pasadena citizens through these awards.

‘There are two things that the Arts Council does, and we do very well,” Crouch noted. “One is that we offer professional development for professional artists, and one of the ways we do that is through our official sponsorship program that also provides professional development opportunities for artists who have moved beyond the kind of a hobbyist stage, and are very serious about their practice.

“Our AxS program is about creating opportunities for artists to do really deep research at these different Pasadena-based science research institutions,” he explained further, “such as Caltech and JPL.”

And Crouch is naturally the Council’s most enthusiastic cheerleader, saying, “Unless you’re already invested in the arts on some professional level, the Arts Council is an organization that you might not be that familiar with. But outside of Pasadena, our reputation has grown by leaps and bounds, and people outside of Pasadena are likely to know what we do more than people in Pasadena, I would dare to say. So the organization and what Pasadena Arts Council is, is going to transition quite significantly in the next month and it’s something that we’ve been working on for the last year and a half. It’s become less about reliance upon institutions, as it is about artists figuring out how to get those tools to kind of make things happen on their own.”

“LA,” he continued, “has seen an explosion of artist-run spaces and artist collectives over the last decade, and I think this is very much a part of that. At the same time, we have a number of fantastic chamber music groups that are part of our program that are functioning at a really high-level artistically but also organizationally, and these are groups that are started by musicians.”

In addition to the major awards given last night, four local high school students — Ashley Avalos, Suhey Elias, Anders Keith, and Molly Mullane — are to be awarded $1,000 grants for their work.

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