Born of the resilience that is ingrained in the Armenian spirit, the developing Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center of California is the manifestation of that very sentiment — embodying a message of strength, perseverance and hope with every step toward its completion.
On Sunday, March 19, the museum’s sold-out Elevate Gala, held at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles, welcomed the community to celebrate the launch of its Elevate Campaign and the surpassing of the first phase of construction — a milestone that features the parking garage and building foundation where the world-class educational and cultural institution will one day stand in Glendale Central Park.
The project, which was adopted by the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee Western USA in 2014, aims to promote understanding and appreciation of America’s ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Armenian American experience and serve as a source of history for future generations.
“For many years, the museum was a dream and a project that was hoped for by the community,” Executive Director Shant Sahakian told the News-Press. “So, being at the gala with a thousand guests and supporters and people who have been coming together to contribute was a rewarding moment. It’s a reality, you can stand on the museum today and know we are that much closer to opening the doors to the public and seeing the impact it’s going to have on families and the young people in our community.
“As a lifelong resident of Glendale, I always dreamed that we would have arts and cultural institutions like this one here in our Jewel City,” he added. “So, it’s really exciting to be a part of a project like this, because long after we are gone, it’s going to be here serving the public.”
Sahakian, who is an elected Glendale Unified School District Board of Education member, said that as a beneficiary of the city’s public school system, his passion for the museum comes from his desire to help expand educational access and opportunities to children of all backgrounds to benefit from the programming the institution will offer once opened.
“In the education world, we talk a great deal about the concept of windows and mirrors,” Sahakian said at the gala on behalf of the Armenian American Museum. “That if we want our children and our young people to thrive — they need mirrors. They need to be able to see themselves in the books they read, in the films they watch, in the stories they hear, and yes — in the museums they visit. They also need windows that allow them to peek into the past to discover their roots, transport themselves into places that they have never been before, learn about cultures that are not their own, and in doing so, learn more about themselves and everyone around them.”
The Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America Archbishop Hovnan Derderian helped lead the invocation at the gala, alongside Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Minister of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America Rev. Hendrik Shanazarian, and representative of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy of the United States and Canada Monsignor Parsegh Baghdassarian.
“The vision of the Armenian American Museum has infused in our spiritual and national life a most precious milestone which has unified us to justify the legacy of the martyred saints of the first genocide of the 20th century,” said Derderian, who is a Board of Trustees co-chair. “Tonight’s gala is another step forward to mobilize our efforts and send to the community a new level of hope, resilience and commitment to serve this country and our ancestral land of Armenia.”
Notable attendees included state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who secured $19.6 million to support the museum including a new $9.8 million grant in the 2022-23 state budget that was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Glendale Mayor Ardy Kassakhian, who dedicated the location of the museum’s campus which will be undergoing a major expansion with the creation of a new central lawn, outdoor amphitheater and children’s park, among other additions.
The museum will offer a wide range of public programming through the permanent exhibition, temporary exhibitions, auditorium, learning center, demonstration kitchen, archives center and more.
Sahakian said the permanent exhibition will focus on Armenian culture, heritage and history, while the temporary exhibitions galley will be designed to feature diverse cultures and subject matters.
“I think the exhibitions are really going to be a place where we’re going to see a significant cross-cultural bridge-building and dialogue and conversation,” he said.
The learning center, he added, will host a wide range of classes, courses and programming, some of which will take place in its demonstration kitchen, an interactive space for cooking and culinary classes that will teach culture through food.
To cap off the evening, Executive Vice Chairman Zaven Kazazian introduced Michael Amerian, a trustee with the nonprofit George Ignatius Foundation, to make a special surprise announcement — with fellow trustees George Phillips Sr. and Walter Karabian by his side — that the foundation would be contributing $1 million to the Armenian American Museum.
“Together, we are going to elevate the Armenian American Museum, we are going to elevate the community, and we are going to elevate the future,” said Executive Chairman Berdj Karapetian in his closing remarks.
The second and final phase of construction will begin the installation of the museum’s steel framing and building out the individual spaces within the structure. The two-level, 50,000-square-foot Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center of California is expected to open its doors to the public in 2025.
“I envision stepping into the grand lobby, watching the grand elevator take people to new adventures, and gazing up at the Hazarashen Skylight raining sunshine on the patrons of the museum below,” Sahakian said. “Children experiencing exhibitions where they will learn about innovators, builders and heroes who have ‘ians’ and ‘yans’ in their last names just like they do. People coming together for culinary experiences in the demonstration kitchen where the smells of familiar food remind us of home and remind some of us of back home. A place where our future leaders will learn and develop in a building that bears the name of their culture yet celebrates the rich diversity of our entire community. A place where culture and heritage will be on display, yet its biggest lesson is the common humanity that unites us all.”
To learn more about or contribute to the Elevate Campaign, visit ArmenianAmericanMuseum.org/Elevate.
First published in the March 25 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.