Wednesday, March 11, 2009


When: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18, 5:30 pm

Where: Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St., Conference Room 211

The Pasadena public art situation has reached a crisis point, and the Pasadena Arts Council is calling on arts supporters, engaged citizens, artists of any medium or performance type, cultural and community leaders, and those who support an open democratic process to attend this meeting.

The meeting has been convened to attempt to sort out the problems created by the City Council's rejection of two artworks proposed by the Arts & Culture Commission for the new Civic Center plaza.

Much is at stake. The artworks were developed in response to a clearly (and process-driven) identified need for iconic sculptures in one of our few major public spaces -- an opportunity for Pasadena to make a statement about itself as an "arts city," as a "cultural destination," as the city's own marketeers like to call it. The works were then tossed out by the City Manager and City Council, responding to a last-minute (and very suspicious) switcheroo on the part of the Convention Center operators.

And why? To preserve more red carpet room for glitzy awards ceremonies held at the Civic? Or because some have decided that Pasadena must stay frozen in time, held forever hostage to some past architectural ideal? And when did "heritage" start meaning "interfering with the future"?

If we don't engage with what is going on right now, we will get what we deserve -- a cold, empty Convention Center Plaza, hundreds of thousands of dollars down the rat hole, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create important works of art squandered.

It is imperative that the arts community turn out for this meeting. You don't have to speak, you don't have to identify yourself, but you do have to be there if you believe that arts policy in Pasadena must not -- will not -- be hijacked.


  1. Oh boy. A whole lot of hullabaloo over another couple of "turds in the plaza"! Whatever?!? 90% of 'Public Art' utterly fails anyway and so will these.

  2. I say spend $1.5 million to have someone design a Public Space that the Public actually wants to BE IN!

  3. Paul -- I think your cynicism has a place in debates such as these. However, in this case the truth of the matter is that either "side" could line up hundreds of people who like these sculptures, and hundreds of people who don't. The least compelling argument, but the first one many resort to, is their personal likes or dislikes when it comes to art. I think you would agree that the winner in matters of public art should not simply be the side with the largest and loudest posse. You should lobby to become an Arts and Culture Commissioner -- seriously -- so you could put your thoughtful opinions into action.

    In the meantime, we have a case where all stakeholders were included in a drawn-out public process, policies followed to the letter, promises made in good faith, time-labor-money spent, and then the City Council abruptly usurped the authority of its own Commission and wilted under pressure from the powerful historical lobby. Pure and simple this is about government bullying the arts and taking what it perceived to be a path of least resistance. It's wrong, and anyone supportive of the arts should stand in defense of the Arts and Culture Commission's original recommendation of Kuhn/Oppenheim, for this controversy now and those that will come in the future.

  4. As representatives of the multi-gallery Pasadena Art Gallery Association, we feel that we must address the proposed sculptures for the Convention Center Plaza. The chosen artists, one from the East Coast and one from Germany, we understand, were found eminently qualified to undertake such as important Pasadena artistic statement. It comes as no surprise to the Pasadena professional art community that officials in charge of selecting these artists made no apparent attempt to notify any of the many, well qualified Pasadena area sculptors or any of the local fine art professionals during their search for talent.

    It may come as news to members of the Arts & Culture Committee and indeed to the Pasadena Arts Council that Pasadena has both sculptors and art gallery/consultants who are very well versed with such projects, having worked on acclaimed, public placement sculptures both regionally and nationally. Was it necessary to go 3,000 to 9,0000 miles outside of our talented, thriving arts community to find qualified individuals for this project? This is especially distressing during the present economic environment.

    The members of the Pasadena Art Gallery Association and their numerous, represented artists and sculptors think that the projected $1.2 million, of which $150,000 has already been spent on artist selection and planning, could have been more successfully applied right here in Pasadena where the money came from in the first place.

  5. Excellent comment Tirage gallery. THINK LOCALLY! Think locally in everything you do, for heavens sake. Support local business, support local industry, support local farms, support local artists. More power to you!

  6. Any process that ends with silly sculptures marring the plaza in front of a Pasadena institution is flawed.

    The City Council gets to make the ultimate decision, as elected (not appointed) representatives of Pasadena. This time they did a good job!


  7. The process always ends with the City Council making the final decision. Like it or not, commissions in Pasadena are ADVISORY to the City Council.

    Commission decisions can be upheld, altered, changed or disregarded by the City Council. That is the process.

    While I appreciate Steve Nowlin's passion, in Pasadena the decision making process always ends with the City Council.

    Paul (not the angry one) Little

  8. Hey, Paul (Little) -- Well, my old friend, I can't disagree -- the process ends with the City Council. But given the ongoing deliberations, plus the directive by City Council that the Arts & Culture Commission should report back to them after 90 days, and the Mayor's inclusion of a return to the Kuhn/Oppenheim sculptures as one of the possible outcomes, not to mention everyone's willingness to jump into the fray as evidenced here, I'd guess we'd have to agree it hasn't ended yet. As to the relationship between City Council and its Commissions, I would think that having the authority to overturn a Commission's recommendation does not mean the Council MUST overturn it. The U.S. Supreme Court has the authority to accept every appeal and overturn the decision of every lower court, but it doesn't bother to second-guess or even consider second-guessing, unless some extraordinary conflict of law crosses the high-bar level necessary to be granted its attention. In the case of the Civic Center sculptures, no similar procedural, structural, or even philosophical issue of merit arose from a three-year process where the City's own policies were strictly followed. At the eleventh hour and under pressure from a special interest, the developer just got cold feet. That's all -- well, so what? The Council didn't need to act on that. The Council doesn't represent developers, it represents Pasadena citizens, and that's why it created the Arts & Culture Commission in the first place, to ensure that the one-percent process was inclusive and public. And it was! The Council should never have allowed itself to get sucked into this, but now that it did, I do agree -- it will end with the City Council.

    Hello Paul (the other Paul) and Tirage Gallery -- you'll both perhaps be pleased to know that the work of a local artist was selected to satisfy one-percent requirements for the Pacific Medical Building's construction, located at 70 W. California, and will be unveiled in the next few weeks. For the site, sculptor David Schafer, a long-time faculty member at Art Center, created a sculpture uniquely conceived by the scanning of a Henry Moore work in Pasadena's Norton Simon collection. This is only one anecdote -- but it would be wrong to infer from the selection of New York and European artists for the Civic Center project, that local artists are excluded from resources and opportunities through the City's Cultural Affairs Division and Arts and Culture Commission. And, I hope you will not mistake the Pasadena Arts Council's activism over the Civic Center sculptures as being an expression of bias against serving local artists, as its free arts resource guide, fiscal sponsorship of local fledgling arts organizations, programs at Muir High School, Young Artist Awards, Pasadena Arts and Culture Calendar, and Pasadena-centered FOLIO publication, to name a few of PAC's services, argue to the contrary.

    As a cosmopolitan and world-class city, I think Pasadena should include international artists among the authors of its public art. Certainly, though, not to the exclusion of opportunities for local artists -- I agree. But however differently nuanced our opinions about issues of localism are, we should be united in our opposition to government stepping in and bullying the arts. If our present one-percent or Commission process does not serve the art community well, then some other process should replace it -- but there must be a process of some sort, and we can only have one process at a time. The process we have now was followed, faithfully, and we in the art community should rise up in unison against top-down authorities in government usurping the process we have. If it happens in this situation, it will happen in another, with another kind of artist, and another kind of special-interest exerting pressure on authority. In the long run, helping to establish those boundaries now will serve us all in the future.

  9. Yes, the City Council has the authority to overrule the Arts & Culture Commission, but it should be considered that the City has assigned the Arts & Culture Commission absolute responsibility for making final decisions when the public arts projects under consideration come from the commercial sector. In my experience, I have never known the City Council to make an attempt to have anyone of the commercial sector decisions overturned. So, the Arts & Culture Commission is to be trusted when it comes to commercial projects, but not public projects?

    If we are able to overlook this curious anomaly and avoid asking Why the double standard? - perhaps we can consider some facts that were not available to City Council when it made its January 26 decision and encourage them to take another look at their decision.

    1) The City Manager's recommendation approved by City Council had at its core the claim that the PCOC had been dissatisfied with the exterior artworks - those of Kuhn and Oppenheim - recommended by the Arts & Culture Commission. In fact, the Chair of the PCOC, Tom Seifert, told his Board, City Councilmembers, the news media and me personally that the PCOC had no objections to the Kuhn and Oppenheim sculptures per se.

    2) Immediately after the City Council's 26 January decision, the Chair of the Arts & Culture Commission, Dale Oliver, publicly offered that he felt the Commission had been "sandbagged,' that up until a few days prior to the 26 January City Council meeting he had been led to believe that the City would approve the Arts & Culture Commission's recommendation, and that he personally felt that some unknown force had brought about a change in the City's position.

    3) Two PCOC Board members were assigned to serve as voting members on both the PCOC public art Advisory and Selection Committees. Only one of them saw the process through, and he is known to have voted for the Kuhn sculpture and its placement on the Convention Center plaza.

    4) In December 2007, Hans Peter Kuhn met with at least one member of the PCOC Board on the as yet unfinished plaza of the Convention Center to discuss the placement of his sculpture on that plaza. This meeting went well and all indications were that plans were moving ahead. It would be 5 months later that the PCOC Board would pass a motion exclaiming that it opposed the placement of any public artworks on the Convention Center plaza. (That position, if embraced by decision makers, would directly contravene stated objectives of the Art at Pasadena Center planning document, which members of the PCOC Board helped create.)

    5) The wiring required to power the Hans Peter Kuhn sculpture was called for in a change order that was presented to the PCOC Board for approval. That approval was granted. The wiring for the Hans Peter Kuhn sculpture is in place, ready to be tapped.

    6) A quid pro quo was offered to the PCOC Board member who served on the PCOC public art Advisory and Selection Committees as a voting member. PCOC Chair, Tom Seifert, offered to that Board member that he would not push for having a tree cut down in front of the Convention Center if that Board Member would back away from his support of the Kuhn sculpture's placement on the Convention Center plaza.

    7) To date more than $180,000 of expenses have been incurred during the Convention Center public art selection process. How much more is going to be spent before we see any art? Will there be any money left for art at this rate?

    8) Those opposing the placement of the Kuhn and Oppenheim sculptures on the "sacred ground" of the Convention Center plaza have often argued that their siting as planned would somehow be a violation of objectives stated in the 1925 Bennett Plan and the more recent compilation of documents referred to as "The Grey Book." A review of those documents has uncovered no language that any reasonable person could interpret as prohibiting the placement of the Kuhn and Oppenheim sculptures on the Convention Center plaza - unless they obstructed the view corridor along what is known as the Southern Garfield Axis - the view from City Hall southward to the Civic Auditorium. A site visit this past week established that the locations specified for the Kuhn and Oppenheim sculptures were well outside that corridor, but did reveal that - on the plaza of the Paseo Colorado - trees, light standards, tables, chairs and a sign announcing a city sponsored event were in violation of those objectives.

  10. Some people need to get a grip. We are in a depression and have children and little old ladies sleeping on the street at night. Spend a little time on that instead of fretting over this "issue." To those who are worked up about it, you have way too much wealth and too much time on your hands. Public art, indeed.