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)


  1. "I think we agree, the past is over."
    Former President George Bush

    This is one of my favorite Bushim's and it came to mind this morning when - at the meeting of the Arts & Culture Commission's Public Art Subcommittee- one of the Subcommittee members was encouraging those in attendance to not look back at what had happened, but to move forward, to meet the needs of the PCOC. Good advice? I wonder.

    A source close to the PCOC/artist interactions is now saying that in December 2007, an individual associated with PCOC convened a meeting with the artists whose works were to be installed on the Grand Plaza in an "effort to gain efficiencies" during the installation of their projected artworks, that is to plan the wiring, plumbing, etc. that would be required in order to minimize the costs. So, in December 2007, it is being said that PCOC was moving forward with the sculptures going in; then, less than a year later, the PCOC is saying NO SCULPTURE ON THE PLAZA - PERIOD! Does anyone besides me think this is a little strange?

    Personally, I'm not ready to fold my tent and move on just yet. I've got a lot more questions I would like answered.

  2. Sounds like the Arts and Culture Commission is off to a jerky start. And what's with PCOC and their allies not having a presence at the meeting? Looks like a replay of the inattention they gave the previous process, or is it that they are too ashamed to show their faces? Well, why should they attend? Because, if they don't get what they want, the City Council will be certain to cover for them. This is pitiful.

  3. I think it is worthwhile to note that the only reason this project came before the City Council is because it exceeded a cost of $75,000 and thus needed their approval. Just what it is the Council is expected to consider for approval or not, when the $75K provision brings a project to their attention, needs clarification. They might modify or reject a project because it is a safety hazard or because they think it will exceed the budget, or because the bidding process was not open to all, or some other such city-policy thing. But there is no City Policy on Aesthetics, upon which the Council can claim footing. The $75K provision should not mean that the Council discusses, as they did a couple weeks ago, what kind of art they do or do not like and then they either sanction a winning aesthetic or condemn a losing one. The Council should never put itself in such a no-win position, because it looks like censorship -- it looks like exclusivity rather than inclusivity. And they of all people should understand the politics of perception. The aesthetics (which includes scale) part of the process needs to be dealt with earlier by an agreed-upon inclusive mechanism and settled before a project exceeding $75K ever comes to the Council's attention. We in the art community thought that was the case -- that the Arts & Culture Commission with Cultural Affairs was the mechanism that was charged with the public art responsibility. The Council's recent action did more than just reject the sculpture -- it rejected the whole process, the city's own process, that led to the sculpture selection.