Pasadena: Destination for Knowledge

Pasadena is a powerful place. Not necessarily because it’s home to politicians, judges, diplomats and other string-pullers (though it is), but because of the abundance of public and private educational spaces that make the city a destination for knowledge. 

It is well-known that Pasadena is home to Caltech, one of the country’s top universities, ArtCenter College of Design, as well as Pasadena City College. But with educational spaces like the Norton Simon Museum, the Pasadena Museum of History, USC Pacific Asia Museum, the Huntington Library, and even public libraries and bookstores that frequently host events for the public, what Pasadena has to offer is especially abundant and vital.

“We’re curious about how people lived before,” Jeannette Bovard, a consultant at the Pasadena Museum of History, recently observed. “We learn from it.”

The best part is this learning doesn’t exclusively have to happen at schools, a sentiment that is expressed in the Norton Simon Museum’s values to educate the community through its art exhibits. “Because for me, the respect for what art is all about comes out of looking more than reading, more than formal instruction,” once said the man for whom the museum is named. Simon felt museums should be for both formal and informal education.

Today, the Norton Simon Museum offers a variety of programs to the community beyond just walking through the exhibits, though, of course, that is an option as well. Guests can attend adult art classes, tours, lectures on specific artists, performances and film screenings. There are also events for children — from art workshops to reading circles. Most of these events are included with the cost of admission.

People can also visit the Pasadena Museum of History, which has a mission statement of promoting an appreciation of history, culture, arts and sciences relevant to Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. The museum also offers educational programs for adults and children either through lectures at the museum or in conjunction with schools.

“Museums provide an important educational resource because they help us understand various facets of previous people’s lives and history, the architecture, the culture, the science, the advancements in technology,” Bovard explained.

The USC Pacific Asia Museum is one of a handful of institutions in the United States dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands, as stated on its website, and is located right here in Pasadena. Its current exhibition displays Mexico’s influence in Chinese art after China “opened” in the 1980s, something that had previously gone unexamined.

“Without being political, [museums] can give voice to the citizenry in matters pertaining to how they are governed by creating avenues for free discussions and dialogue; they can create a confluence where the events of today can be exhibited and discussed for the collective good of all,” so said Emmanuel N. Arinze, former president of the Commonwealth Association of Museums, at a public lecture in 1999.

However, Pasadena’s educational spaces include more than just museums. It’s common practice for bookstores to have book signings and activities, but few go to the extent that Vroman’s Bookstore does to engage and educate the community.

The store boasts holding over 400 free community events a year and having hosted recognized authors such as Irving Stone, Upton Sinclair, Ray Bradbury, Joan Didion, Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton and, most recently, Hillary Clinton. More than that, the store also holds a nonpartisan speaker series called Democracy Wise created to educate the community on topics relating to the democratic system.

Past events include a refresher course on democracy, how to navigate the media and learning one’s civil liberties. Speakers have ranged from USC professors to members of the ACLU. People who attend can even send in questions ahead of time to be addressed during the session.

Like few cities its size, Pasadena Public Library and its 10 branches are active with the community as well, which reflects their mission “to be an information center for the Pasadena community in order to preserve and encourage the free expression of ideas essential to an informed citizenry.” From computer literacy programs to hosting Spanish conversation groups, the libraries here have much to offer in addition to its books and other resources.

At a time when many in our society are trying to control the flow of information, rewrite history and bend facts, active educational spaces like museums, libraries, art galleries and bookstores, where information is preserved and made available to the public have become more important than ever before.

Accessible educational spaces are also necessary because they provide opportunities for people to pause, reflect, understand and inspire. They provide a window to see the rest of the world, to see different aspects of their own world, to bridge generational gaps and the opportunity to be informed and engaged members of society, especially for those where formal higher education was not an option.

“The freedom to know is the foundation of our democracy,” states the Pasadena Public Library website. 


The Pasadena Museum of History is located at 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena. Call (626) 577-1660 or visit pasadenahistory.org.

The Pasadena Museum of California Art is located at 490 E. Union St., Pasadena. Call (626) 568-3665 or visit pmcaonline.org.

The Norton Simon Museum is located at 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-6840 or visit nortonsimon.org.

Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino. Call (626)405-2100 or visit huntington.org. 

USC Pacific Asian Museum is located at 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-2742 or visit http://china.usc.edu/usc-pacific-asia-museum.