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Pasadena Arts & Culture commissioner resigns over rejection of public art proposal

January 30, 2009 | 11:36 am

Oppenheim_conceptProposed works

In the wake of the Pasadena City Council's recent vote to reject a recommendation by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission to install a pair of controversial public artworks on the plaza in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, commission member Sasha Anawalt has resigned.

Sasha Anawalt In an e-mail sent to Pasadena District 5 Councilman Victor Gordo; Dale Oliver, chairman of the Arts & Culture Commission; Pasadena Cultural affairs manager Rochelle Branch and city manager Michael Beck, Anawalt (photo at left), who is director of arts journalism programs at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, said that she was resigning her position as commissioner for the fifth district because of "a poor and cowardly decision for which the citizens ultimately pay."

The proposed "Thinking Caps" (above left) by New York City sculptor Dennis Oppenheim and "Light Field" (above right) by German artist Hans Peter Kuhn had roused complaints from some residents and preservationists who objected to the large scale of the works.  The $1.2-million project was to have been funded by a city requirement that 1% of a construction budget be spent on public art.

The Pasadena Civic Operating Co., which manages the auditorium and surrounding facilities, has recommended that no public art be installed on the plaza.

Anawalt's letter continued: "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."

In her letter and a telephone interview with The Times, Anawalt said that her busy schedule played a role in her decision to step down, but "the scales tipped" after the City Council voted against the project earlier this week.  She added in a subsequent e-mail that "the procedure for the 1% program failed the artists, the citizens and the Commission."

Anawalt added that she shares the responsibility with other commission members for not fighting harder to rectify flaws in the project approval procedure at an earlier date.  "I coulda-woulda-shoulda done more," she said. "I do think resigning is the best I can do.  I am taking the position that I think artists matter."

-- Diane Haithman

Images of the proposed artworks provided by the artists, courtesy of the city of Pasadena.

Photo: Sasha Anawalt. Credit: Maggie Smith.