At about 4 years old, Alex Babajanyan II used to run away from his school in Armenia so that he could spend time drawing.
Although today the R.D. White Elementary School art teacher advises his students against the same practice, Babajanyan said his grandfather, for whom who he's named, bought him art equipment back then and encouraged him to draw as much as possible.
"There hasn't been a day when I wanted to try something else," Babajanyan said. "It's always been art."
Babajanyan, a professional artist since he was 14, is now living with his 7-year-old son in the newly opened affordable housing artist colony in Glendale, ACE 121, which was created to bring local artists under one roof near the downtown hub of culture and entertainment.
Located at 121 N. Kenwood St., walking distance from the Alex Theatre and the Museum of Neon Art, ACE 121 is a five-story, 70-unit colony that integrates a maker space, performing arts and music room, as well as a gallery run by resident artists.
Babajanyan contributed two pieces to the gallery, one titled "Vladimir Atanian," a pencil-on-paper drawing of his former art teacher. The piece won a National Juror's Award for works on paper last year.
"When I teach art history at school, I talk about the community of artists that they used to have in Paris — even in Armenia they had a community of artists," Babajanyan said. "That sense of community, you don't see it a lot anymore."
Babajanyan also works out of his nearby studio, which he keeps open to the public. He runs regular art programs out of the space, including a twice-monthly session that gives the ability for military veterans and orphans to come in and draw for free.
Michelle Coulter, project manager at Meta Housing Corp., which, along with the city's Housing Authority, developed the complex, said the colony brings a level of authenticity.
"As [nearby artist colonies] get more investment and make their names as arts districts, they are also pushing out many of the artists," Coulter said. "And so what ACE 121 does is really preserve an authentic community of artists."
Babajanyan is currently working on three pieces, one of them for a forthcoming art show at the Brand Library and Art Center.
"We're always fighting for the arts, always fighting for arts education in school, so when you have an artist colony … it sends a positive message," Babajanyan said.