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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.

Comments () | Archives (11)

Talk about hysterical. This isn't censorship. Some residents and preservations objected to the large scale of the proposed works. City Council, which represents the people, rejected the proposal. Big deal. Submit a different proposal. Based on this one decision Pasadena is labeled anti-art? Unless there is more information not given by this story, this is no big deal.

Sounds like it was pushed by a powerful few, but rejected by those who would actually have to deal with the childishness of it for decades. Democracy. They simply applied for a commission and did not get it. Why is irrelevant, this is the typical sense of entitlement of the artistes of our age, everyone actualy, they just being the softest and whiniest

art collegia delenda est

I nominate Donald Frazell.

Check out the blog that was created by the Pasadena Arts Council to discuss this situation. On the blog you can read very well reasoned comments by people for and against the decision of City Council to reject the artworks.


JJ, those of us who objected to this decision are being extremely 'reasonable'. It is the people who have decided against installing the artworks who are 'hysterical'. I can't see it any other way! This country was founded by people who stood up against an anti-democratic authority that blatantly ignored the will of the people. Would you call George Washington 'hysterical'?

Uh, no, just read it. It is almost all ranters and ravers about how they got jobbed by the city council, as usual, a bunch entitlement freaks. They owe you knothing, it is the cities money, and very few have anything to do with the PAC. She is jut another rich chick who wants to be glamnourous, and go to art parites, Anawalt Lumber I would assume.

Contemp Art is dead, gone in the Depression created by the patrons of it. No one cares, its sterile, silly, childish nonsense, no one outside the day care centers known as Art schools cares. What a waste of money. THATs the point, there isnt exactly alot to go around, if its gonna be spent, it better be darn good. This aint, and wont help the local economy either.

The Council was just doing their job, believe it or not, its NOT all about YOU.

art collegia delenda est

The sculptures are hideous.

Sculpture selection and siting is usually not done well for two fundamental reasons: no real drill-down to the real meaning of the what the space should be [the reason-to-be, the "brand"], and the utter lack of contextualization of the sculpture to the surrounding cityscape. There is also a third reason: poor selection of materials, especially plinths. Now, the sculptures selected here fit very well the buildings modeled, because both harken of poor design and poor quality materials. In this sense, they are perfect for each other.

Thank goodness the Pasadena City Council did not get to vote on the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Eiffel Tower, or the Pyramids of Giza. Other than the Norton Simon, Pasadena is just a place to stop and get gas.

As a Pasadena resident, I feel we need to educate our civic leaders about what happened to art and design after the arts and crafts movement was over. I live in a charming 1930s spanish bungalow. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy contemporary art and would like to see more of it in the public space. The moden and contemporary are part of our cultural heritage. Come on little old ladies of Pasadena!

I wonder how many people got to vote on the architecture? I would bet not one other than the "experts" involved in the process

Donald-you make great sense to me. I prefer NOT to be called an artist and be lumped in with those whiny, self-important, Dr.'s of Entitlement- which these days pass for artists. If I don't create something the public wants to buy, I move on and create something they DO want. I don't sit around whining or taking grant writing workshops trying to solicit someone to support me.

This whole conversation makes me wonder what someone like Millard Sheets would have envisioned for these spaces.

And finally, if we don't get some meaningful arts and crafts experience back in front of our younger generation (whether it be through public schools or otherwise) we are in for a lot more of this in the future.


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