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The Huntington’s President Karen Lawrence to Discuss the Institution’s Evolution on Founders’ Day

Published on Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | 12:43 pm

Few local landmarks—and there are many—ring as many cultural bells as The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, nestled just south of San Marino’s border with Pasadena.

The world-class facility boasts some of the world’s most well-known and remarkable works of art and historical materials, along with gardens that rival the most breathtaking found anywhere in the world.

This year’s 2024 Founders’ Day program, “Foundations and Futures,” scheduled for Thursday, February 22, at 6 p.m. in Rothenberg Hall, will mark The Huntington’s fifth anniversary under the leadership of President Karen R. Lawrence.

Lawrence, the ninth president of The Huntington, will be joined by Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, for a conversation that looks back at The Huntington’s evolution over the past five years and forward at its strategic aspirations.

President Lawrence is expected to explain how founders Henry and Arabella Huntington’s original mission still holds sway over the daily operations and the facility’s use by researchers, teachers, students, and the wider public.

Founders’ Day at The Huntington Library has evolved to more fully recognize the contributions of Arabella Huntington alongside those of her husband Henry.

In an interview with Pasadena Now this week, Lawrence said “We’re taking a new look at our past and looking at both Henry Huntington’s contributions, and Arabella’s, and really, the whole family.”

“We are broadening the stories that we tell, but I think we’re also re-looking at the founders and what they contributed to The Huntington. Specifically, they both together gave and entrusted their private estate for the purpose of research, education, and for the public. But I think they had different personal passions.”

Lawrence said the Library was Henry Huntington’s pride and passion. “His baby,” she said.

Arabella’s passion was fine arts and decorative arts, said Lawrence.

“So as we celebrate his birthday — which is how Founders’ Day started originally,” she said, “we’re also telling the story of all three collections, the Library, the Art Museum, and the Botanical Gardens.”

This interplay of objects and disciplines points towards what Lawrence calls “One Huntington,” a unified constellation of collections tied to contemporary concerns.

For the President, the celebration is no less than marking the current “ethos” of The Huntington.

“I think what we’re expanding is the notion of The Huntington’s place in this region,” Lawrence said, fully mindful of the institution’s weight and importance in the community, the region, and the world.

“We’re reflecting how The Huntington functions and its relationship to communities in our region, particularly the San Gabriel Valley and LA. And I think we have increasingly broadened the story.”

Lawrence noted, “Henry Huntington said, ‘The Library will tell the story,’ so one of the things that we focused on over Founders’ Day is that there are many stories to tell, and all three of our collections tell those stories.

Looking off into the unknown and distant future, President Lawrence emphasized, “The fact that we’re connecting our three collections reflects a way of working that’s very current. I would call it, ‘One Huntington,’ a commitment to bringing our collections together to maximize the impact of each one, by bringing multidisciplinary lenses to the way that we think about contemporary issues, about community, and about identity.”

“Respect the past, examine the past, and reimagine the future,” she continued. “And I think foundations and futures taken together are a very important way of looking at The Huntington’s evolution.”

Founders’ Day has become not just a celebration of the past but also a forum to reimagine The Huntington’s future. To quote Lawrence: “I see it in relation to what I said before, respect the past, examine the past, and reimagine the future.”

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