Friday, February 13, 2009

Moving forward, but how?

At the Arts & Culture Commission meeting this past Wednesday night, there was no holding back by many Commissioners, when they expressed their reaction to the City Council's decision to reject its recommendation of the Kuhn and Oppenheim artworks proposed for the Pasadena Center, with anger, frustration, disbelief and dismay served up in hefty portions. Commission Chair Dale Oliver -- expecting City Manager Michael Beck's support and clearly annoyed by the switcheroo recommendation to "consider alternatives" -- called upon Commissioners to consider how they are to move forward.

Particularly baffled by PCOC's position that it did not want anything -- including public artworks -- on the Convention Center plaza was Commissioner Patrick Conyers, who wondered how any alternatives to the Kuhn and Oppenheim pieces could even be considered...if PCOC doesn't want anything in the area of the Convention Center plaza, how does the Commission recommend something...anything...? Quite the conundrum.

Charged by City Council to "consider alternatives," the Commission does not appear to have ruled out the possibility of returning with its original proposal, an option that was acknowledged during the January 26th City Council meeting and referenced by Mayor Bogaard during a conversation with Pasadena Star-News reporter Janette Williams, who quizzed him about the options available to the Commission. Bogaard said that "rethinking the plan and sending it back to the Arts & Culture Commission didn't preclude the present option."

With fewer than 75 days to come up with possible alternatives to the Kuhn and Oppenheim works, the Commission faces some daunting challenges, not the least of which would be mounting a new round of requests for proposals and then evaluating then -- if the City is to keep the whole process fair and truly competitive.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Public Art Subcommittee back at it; meanwhile, the story's getting around

The Public Art Subcommittee of the Arts & Culture Commission-- the group (if two people is a group) responsible for beginning the process of "consideration of alternatives" for the public art proposed at Pasadena Center -- met Wednesday, February 4th, for their second meeting since the controversial City Council decision to reject the recommended artworks.

Subcommittee members Kellye Wallett and Dale Oliver (who also serves as the Chair of the Commission) were joined by Cultural Affairs staff, A&C Commissioners Lyla White and Patrick Conyers and members of the public not willing to let the case close quietly. Absent was representation from Pasadena Center Operating Company (PCOC) and Pasadena Heritage, the two factions against the Kuhn and Oppenheim pieces being placed on the plaza -- against, in fact, any public art being placed on the site.

A number of alternatives arose during the discussion, including temporary artworks, alternative locations for the existing works, the identification of existing artworks as opposed to newly commissioned pieces, and others. It is hard to imagine how temporary or existing works would satisfy PCOC, who made it explicitly clear that they want no artworks of any kind on the plaza. When asked whether the original plan (developed with input from PCOC) for the artworks on the plaza would be relied upon in developing a new selection process, Commissioner Oliver indicated maybe, maybe not, but that it would be hard to ignore the original intent of that plan.

When pressed on the need for participation by the community on the decision, the Subcomittee made clear the distinction between transparency and public input, the former necessary, the latter...not so much.

A goal of a "written articulation" of alternatives by March 1 was set; Cultural Affairs staff has the task of preparing this report.

In the meantime, arts journals in print around the country and online continue to follow the controversy; no less a voice than the New York Times has picked up the story, which was blasted onto the newswire by Sasha Anawalt's resignation from the Commission. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's art and architecture critic, Mary Louise Schumacher, wonders if Pasadena made a mistake "by not involving the public in the process enough, which can lead to polarized, over simplified debates that bring good projects to early ends." (See Links)