Friday, January 30, 2009

Commissioner Sasha Anawalt resigns in protest

Sasha Anawalt has resigned from the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission, stating that the recent decision by City Council was "a poor and cowardly decision for which the citizens ultimately pay. The word is out among the artists in Pasadena, in Los Angeles, and it may spread across the network of America's 100,000 arts organizations and also abroad: Engage with Pasadena at one's own peril. Public art can and will be censored by a powerful few. And, yes, censorship is an appropriate word."

Anawalt is a significant presence in the arts community, both locally and at a national level; she runs programs at the Annenberg School at USC in arts journalism, and the Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater for the National Endowment for the Arts. She brought a deep understanding of the issues and an important perspective on the artist and his/her creative process. Her resignation is a blow to the Commission, the community and the ongoing dialogue about importance of art in our lives.

Full text of Anawalt's letter:

Dear Colleagues:
I resign my position as Commissioner for the fifth district on the Arts & Culture Commission. My eye is fixed on the artists, Hans Peter Kuhn and Dennis Oppenheim, whose work was left undefended last night by us on the Commission.*

My eye is also on our citizens who must see $150,000 and three years of work be regarded as negligible; this is an unconscionable waste. On the Commission, we approved a particular position on December 10 and we were superseded by City Manager, Michael Beck, and staff who presented a different position last night. To me, the democratic process established by the Arts & Culture Commission is not democratic when a few can dictate and alter what the body has in good conscience decided, using its collective expertise and valuable volunteer hours.

The decision last night not to move ahead and approve Kuhn and Oppenheim's works was a poor and cowardly decision for which the citizens ultimately pay. The word is out among the artists in Pasadena, in Los Angeles, and it may spread across the network of America's 100,000 arts organizations and also abroad: Engage with Pasadena at one's own peril. Public art can and will be censored by a powerful few. And, yes, censorship is an appropriate word.

I am sorry for my decision to resign, because I very much enjoyed the company of each and every one of you and of my fellow commissioners. I know I can do more on the outside for Pasadena than I can on the inside. Had there been a more healthy, robust coverage of this issue in the media, perhaps the Council, the Commission, Michael Beck and the Pasadena Cultural Affairs staff would have stopped to think, question and examine the repercussions of participating in a late date decision that the art is, for whatever reason, unworthy.

In fairness, I have been taxed by the amount of time this Commission has taken in my schedule and have been weighing whether I can keep it up for some time now. The scales tipped last night. But I still believe in my heart in the value that an Arts & Culture Commission can have -- perhaps at another time in my life and in the Commission's.

I wish you all the best in the next stage.
Sincerely yours,

* Amendment 01/29/09 - I include myself foremost in this charge and regret that I did not speak up more loudly before or at all during the Council meeting. It concerns me that at this financially critical time, the Council's decision also means not giving jobs and work to those who would have forged and installed the sculptures. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium is regarded as "sacred," its plaza, too - so said several citizens who addressed the Council. But I believe that Kuhn and Oppenheim and their works, as well as the potential builders and installers are just as sacred. These artists and artisans were not treated with the same respect given the building and space that they worked so hard to honor. For this, I apologize.

Sasha Anawalt

Los Angeles Times picks up Pasadena public art controversy

The Los Angeles Times reported today on the decision by Pasadena City Council to "reject a recommendation by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission to install controversial public artworks of light tubes and giant caps on the plaza in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium."

Arts advocates in favor of placing the artworks as proposed (who include supporters of the works as well as defenders of the public process) continue to discuss what they consider to be flawed arguments by the Pasadena Center Operating Company and the whiff of censorship. The mention of the controversy by the LA Times will inform a wider audience about this issue. Please continue to post your comments, and email Pasadena City Council members through

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pasadena City Council Votes to Send Public Art Proposal Back to the Drawing Board

At last night's Pasadena City Council meeting, the Council voted to reject a recommendation by the Arts & Culture Commission to install works it had solicited and approved by internationally-known sculptors Hans Peter Kuhn and Dennis Oppenheim at the new Pasadena Center plaza, and instead accept a recommendation by City Manager Michael Beck to seek alternatives. The decision followed impassioned public comment from both sides of the debate; the discussion encompassed specific points of contention such as sight lines and structural issues, and wider contexts of policy, finances, aesthetics, heritage, even the purpose of art itself.

To this point the Pasadena Arts Council has not taken a position on either side of this public art debate. However, it is the mission of this organization to speak for, advocate for, and defend the arts.

The process was followed in accordance with policy and procedure. The Arts & Culture Commission, in recommending that the artworks be placed on the plaza of the Pasadena Center, adhered to the guidelines that were created expressly for this process, and the only reason the matter was before the City Council was the stipulation on approval of expenditures over a specific amount.

It has become fashionable to quote our new President. However, we here paraphrase one who preceded him, John F. Kennedy, who spoke to the nation's responsibility to current and future generations: "The nation which disdains the mission of art has nothing to look backward on with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope." Substitute the word "city" for "nation," and the message is clear.

Please take the new Quick Vote, and post your comments below.

Friday, January 23, 2009

BREAKING NEWS...City Manager issues recommendation on public art

The agenda for Monday's City Council meeting has been posted online. City Manager Michael Beck's staff recommendation states, in part, that"in consideration of the dissatisfaction expressed by the PCOC board with the exterior artworks ... [Council should] refer this matter back to staff and the Arts and Culture Commission for consideration of alternatives."

City Council may still vote on the matter, however. Click on the link at right to view the entire agenda and attachments.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Public Art at Pasadena Center

On Monday, January 26th, the Pasadena City Council is scheduled to vote on an important public art project planned for the new Pasadena Center, exactly three years and one day after the first meeting to consider what artworks should be placed at the site of the new civic buildings.

The Pasadena Center is comprised of the historic Civic Auditorium (built in 1927) and two flanking new and renovated buildings that will contain meeting rooms and a ballroom. The Center serves as the southern terminus of the Civic Center axis, a classic Beaux Arts plan implemented in the 1920’s. Situated on Green Street in downtown Pasadena, the Civic Auditorium is one of several original buildings constructed as part of a grand civic design that includes iconic Pasadena City Hall and the Public Library. These buildings are civic and national treasures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Following an extensive review and approval process, which included 403 submissions from artists around the world, the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission approved the final art plans on December 10, 2008, for the exterior artwork for the Pasadena Center.

A spirited public conversation has arisen regarding two of the three selected artworks, all of which are contemporary in nature. Supporters of the project are excited about the placement of contemporary works by internationally noted artists, and feel that the civic space will be complemented and enlivened by these works. Others feel that the beautiful fa├žade of the Civic Auditorium is a piece of art in and of itself, and that the placement of these unusual artworks detracts from the Auditorium and is not in keeping with Pasadena’s traditional architectural heritage.

Where do you stand? Take our Quick Vote, and post a comment below. If you’re not familiar with the issue, read more below and follow the links on the right. Take a drive down Green Street and check the site out for yourself. Contact your City Councilperson with your thoughts on the Pasadena Center public art decision. And most importantly, plan to attend the City Council meeting on Monday, January 26th at 6:30 PM. Contact Pasadena Cultural Affairs at 626-744-7062 for up-to-date information.

The artworks are:

Lightfield by artist Hans Peter Kuhn, an abstract light sculpture installation to be located on the public plaza adjacent to the east Conference Center pavilion. “Lightfield” is composed of 25 illuminated polycarbonate tubes that rise approximately 5 feet from the base. The field of light will swivel and be randomly repositioned by an automatic mechanism, a two-axis swiveling base programmed to allow each tube to move and rotate in a conic fashion. The tubes may also be programmed to disengage, allowing them to sway in the wind. The base is concrete with granite-clad sides and top, 15’x38’ in plan and 20” high.

“Thinking Caps” by artist Dennis Oppenheim, a sculptural piece in architectural scale forming an enclosure of projection surfaces which conveys the notion that it creates and holds ideas, thereby reflecting the many activities, conferences, functions, and meetings that take place within the Pasadena Center. Sited on the west end of the Plaza, adjacent to the Ballroom, the sculpture is 15’h x 30’d and consists of three hats: train hat, sun hat and conductor’s cap. They are made of structural steel, galvanized and/or powder coated steel, punch plate, perforated metal and grating, Lexan and pattern projectors. These hats form an enclosure or gathering space that viewers can enter to observe the images projected onto each of the hat’s surfaces. These images are an abstract representation of thought – of the person “wearing” the hat and producing the “ideas.”

Click the images in the slideshow on the right for a larger view of the proposed artworks.