Founded in 1992 by artists Karen Atkinson and Joe Luttrell, Side Street Projects began as a community fabrication shop and exhibition space located in the 18th Street Arts Complex in Santa Monica, California. The goal was to support artists in the creation and exhibition of art. Then-emerging artists such as photographer Catherine Opie and painter Mark Bradford had some of their first exhibitions at Side Street Projects. In response to the lack of visual arts and manual arts programs in Los Angeles County public schools, Side Street Projects launched Alternate Routes: Education on Wheels in 1997. This mobile arts education program, which is now a well-recognized symbol of Side Street Projects, is provided at schools in a school bus converted into a child-sized woodworking studio. Through its educational program, the mission of the organization broadened to provide artists of all ages the ability and means to support their creative endeavors as well as the community at large.

From 2001 to 2008, Side Street Projects was a partner at Armory Northwest, an experimental and temporary satellite facility of the Armory Center for the Arts. Side Street Projects was one of a handful of organizations-in-residence that collaborated and shared resources in order to provide quality programs to the neighborhood of Northwest Pasadena. During this time, Side Street Projects developed new programs, including workshops for artists on best professional practices, artist services, and an equipment cooperative. Armory Northwest closed in January 2008 and, while Side Street Projects remains a partner, it no longer has a resident relationship.

In 2002 Emily Hopkins, who is now Side Street Projects’ executive director, began managing the Alternate Routes program. She developed this program in several ways, including creating a curriculum that complied with California’s visual and performing arts standards, introducing a new design element into the curriculum available to all students, and initiating services for special needs students. As a result, the program was more useable by public schools because it could be integrated into mandated, core curriculum studies during the day. In 2007 the Alternate Routes program was incorporated into the Pasadena Unified School District’s (PUSD) My Masterpieces curriculum, the district’s then-new sequential arts program for K-6, in collaboration with the Gamble House, a Green & Greene architectural icon. Side Street Project’s participation in this program has expanded each year as the organization has built its capacity.

After several relocations over 16 years, Side Street Projects transformed into a completely mobile, self-sustaining community arts center in January 2008. It exists off the grid in a collection of trailers and buses. For seven years it was located on land donated by the City of Pasadena in the underserved community of Northwest Pasadena. During that period, Side Street Projects hosted a minimum of four socially engaged art projects each year that were integrated into the free programming provided to the community every Saturday. Twice a year it participates in Pasadena Art Night and hosts thousands of visitors.

In January 2015 a senior housing development began construction where Side Street Projects had been parked for seven years. The Pasadena Unified School District then welcomed Side Street Projects onto its property due to the organization’s programmatic commitment to the Disctrict. Side Street Projects is now parked on campus at John Muir High School. It now operates in seven trailers and three buses, several of which travel regularly to school and community sites to provide educational programs. At its home base in Northwest Pasadena, the administrative offices, shop and community programs are powered by a solar electric array.