Established in 1971, the museum is one of few U.S. institutions dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands, serving the city of Los Angeles and the Greater Southern California region. The museum’s mission is to further intercultural understanding through the arts of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The museum’s historic building has served as a center for art, culture and learning in Pasadena since its construction in 1924 by pioneering collector and entrepreneur Grace Nicholson (1877-1948) as her residence, galleries, and Treasure House/emporium. Ms. Nicholson’s championing of Asian art early in the century set the tone for much of the Pasadena community's arts-related activities during the ensuing decades. The building also served as the site of the Pasadena Art Museum, which was renowned for its groundbreaking exhibitions of contemporary art. Pacific Asia Museum combined the spirits of both its predecessors in its focus on the classic and contemporary arts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. In 2013, University of Southern California partnered with the museum to form USC Pacific Asia Museum. The affiliation broadened the community that benefits from the museum’s role as a vital resource for education and cultural heritage, and expanded the audience interested in a dialogue about art, history and culture.