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Rose Bowl score: Historic preservation, $1 million; public art, $0

October 14, 2010 |  9:04 am

RoseBowl

Pasadena's Rose Bowl became the focus of a different kind of competition this week: Call it the Bucks for Aesthetics Bowl, with historic preservation matched against public art in a contest over which would get nearly $1 million in development fees expected to flow from the stadium's planned $152-million renovation.

Historic preservation won, leaving art proponents miffed at their ongoing losing streak before the Pasadena City Council. Usually, city law requires developers to pay 1% of major construction projects’ cost to a public arts fund, to be spent on commissioning new art works at the development site. But when a project involves renovations to a historic landmark, such as the 88-year-old Rose Bowl, officials have the choice of commissioning new art with the 1% fee, or applying it to restoring worn or damaged historic elements of the site so they look new again.

In approving the renovation plan, which will be paid for mainly with federal and local bond revenues,  council members OKd the Rose Bowl operators’ request to use the 1% fee for historic renovations rather than to commission a new work of art.  The council overruled the city's Arts and Culture Commission, an advisory panel of government appointees that wanted the money spent to create new art.

"We feel that the arts community has been to a certain extent marginalized during this project and others that preceded it," Terry LeMoncheck, executive director of the Pasadena Arts Council, said Wednesday (the arts council is a private, nonprofit group that promotes the arts). The past disappointments, she said, were the $117-million renovation of Pasadena’s historic City Hall, completed in 2007, and a previous, smaller renovation at the Rose Bowl. Both times, the 1% fee went to historic restoration rather than art creation.

Also rankling Pasadena advocates of contemporary art is what LeMoncheck calls "Sculpturegate," the city council's rejection, in January 2009, of a $1.2-million installation that the Arts and Culture Commission had proposed for the plaza in front of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, to be paid for with private development fees. Historical preservationists had been among those who argued, successfully, that the works -– an array of light tubes and a sculpture of giant hats -– would detract from the auditorium’s historic look.

LeMoncheck said she likes the Rose Bowl renovation plan, and doesn't want to be seen as a critic of the historic-preservation work to be accomplished. But she said she thinks the development fee should have gone to commissioning public art, with funds raised from other sources to carry out the proposed preservation work.

"Preservation folks are our colleagues, and there's an overlap between the arts, architecture and preservation, a DNA we all share," LeMoncheck said. "But great cities are ones in which the arts have a public expression of support, and we don't see that at this time" from the Pasadena City Council.

"I totally understand the frustration" that art advocates are feeling, said Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, a historic-preservation group. "There is a tension sometimes [about] what is the best use of the money." But in the Rose Bowl project, she said, the historic elements that will be paid for with the development fee are not extras, but are intrinsic to properly accomplishing the overall renovation plan.

Public art also gets more bites at the government-funding apple in Pasadena than historic preservation, Mossman said, because city law specifies that when a new building goes up, or one that's not a historic landmark is renovated, all the money is earmarked for public art, with no option to funnel it to preservation instead.

With the recession having slowed regular development, Mossman acknowledged, fees to fund public art have dwindled, and losing the Rose Bowl share would come as a blow for supporters of public art. Funding plans for the three-year Rose Bowl renovation include raising $7.5 million in private donations; Mossman said that perhaps a case can be made to those donors to also support the arts. "I hope other opportunities will come to light as the project unfolds."

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: The Rose Bowl. Credit: Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau

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