Nixing public art causes Anawalt to resign

Sasha Anawalt, the director of the arts journalism master’s degree programs at the Annenberg School for Communication at USC and Councilman Victor Gordo‘s appointee to the Pasadena Arts and Culture Commission, has resigned because of the City Council’s decision to review the public art that was to have been placed on the Civic Auditorium plaza.

Many know her name from her years as dance critic at the Herald Examiner and on KCRW, and I wrote about her great Slow Journalism Conference in mid-November.

It’s an impassioned plea in which Anawalt blames both a failure of journalistic coverage of the issues — and herself. Here’s the full text of her letter:

Dear Colleagues:
I resign my position as Commissioner for the fifth district on the Arts & Culture Commission. My eye is fixed on the artists, Hans Peter Kuhn and Dennis Oppenheim, whose work was left undefended last night by us on the Commission.*

My eye is also on our citizens who must see $150,000 and three years of work be regarded as negligible; this is an unconscionable waste. On the Commission, we approved a particular position on December 10 and we were superseded by City Manager, Michael Beck, and staff who presented a different position last night. To me, the democratic process established by the Arts & Culture Commission is not democratic when a few can dictate and alter what the body has in good conscience decided, using its collective expertise and valuable volunteer hours.

The decision last night not to move ahead and approve Kuhn and Oppenheim’s works was a poor and cowardly decision for which the citizens ultimately pay. 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.

I am sorry for my decision to resign, because I very much enjoyed the company of each and every one of you and of my fellow commissioners. I know I can do more on the outside for Pasadena than I can on the inside. Had there been a more healthy, robust coverage of this issue in the media, perhaps the Council, the Commission, Michael Beck and the Pasadena Cultural Affairs staff would have stopped to think, question and examine the repercussions of participating in a late date decision that the art is, for whatever reason, unworthy.

In fairness, I have been taxed by the amount of time this Commission has taken in my schedule and have been weighing whether I can keep it up for some time now. The scales tipped last night. But I still believe in my heart in the value that an Arts & Culture Commission can have — perhaps at another time in my life and in the Commission’s.

I wish you all the best in the next stage.
Sincerely yours,
Sasha

* Amendment 01/29/09 – I include myself foremost in this charge and regret that I did not speak up more loudly before or at all during the Council meeting. It concerns me that at this financially critical time, the Council’s decision also means not giving jobs and work to those who would have forged and installed the sculptures. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium is regarded as “sacred,” its plaza, too – so said several citizens who addressed the Council. But I believe that Kuhn and Oppenheim and their works, as well as the potential builders and installers are just as sacred. These artists and artisans were not treated with the same respect given the building and space that they worked so hard to honor. For this, I apologize.


Sasha Anawalt

Inaugural dispatches from around the nation

My column for tomorrow follows — and, following that, lots of full comments from friends and relations I had e-mailed and asked to send me impressions of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Some are expanded versions of excerpts in the column:

‘Wear that hat, girl!” came the cry from the crowd at the Jackie Robinson Center Tuesday as Aretha Franklin appeared on the big screen to sing for the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

It was the place to be, in the heart of Pasadena’s African-American community, amid the cheers and tears of hundreds. It was such the place to be that we were broadcast back to ourselves when the CNN camera opened on us, showing the rest of the world what it was like to be in Pasadena on a day of such glory, of “repairing the things in need of repair,” as inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander had it.

I wrote friends and relations asking what they saw and heard. What they said:
“Happy day today!” writes former Altadena writer D.G. Fulford from Columbus, Ohio, where she watched “in solitary splendor” with “Lausche, my dog and a well-known Democrat.”

Claire Bogaard was heading to Jackie Robinson “to celebrate — and perhaps weep with joy, too.”

Former Westridge head Fran Scoble: “I have not seen such a national uplift since the end of World War II! I love it all. I love the kitsch, the crowds in the Mall, that amazingly beautiful family that comes with our new president.”

Former Mayor Rick Cole on Monday night: “We’re laying out our sleeping bags in offices near the Capitol. We’ll be seeing it live tomorrow.”

South Pasadena winemaker Brad Thiel, from new digs in Oregon: “At a ‘zinaguration’ party at Springhouse Cellars in Hood River. Get it? Red + blue = purple. Oh well, it is the boonies, after all. They made a great gewurtz called ‘gewurst president ever’ which was quite tasty.”

Novelist and Oxy prof Jervey Tervalon: “I will be viewing the inauguration with students, and though the course is American Humor, we will be watching with reverence.”

Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin: “I think it is a momentous occasion to be part of the election of the first African-American president. But I am more interested in the fact that he was the better candidate than in the fact that he is black.”
Pasadena Pops director Rachael Worby: “I think I feel as many of us do, a great need to speak of the joy publicly but an even greater need to experience it privately.”

Novelist Naomi Hirahara: “I was expecting to watch by myself, but thankfully a friend, a playwright and poet who I had not seen for years, called and invited me … One of the attendees took out her red, white and blue baseball cap and said this inauguration was not meant to be watched alone, but in community. I agree.”

My dad, chemist Milt Wilson, in Honolulu: “We have only 26 letters and a few punctuation marks in the English language, but when permutated into a new, proper, order, they can form 18 minutes of a corrected direction for the nation’s role in its own affairs and for its interactions with the rest of the world. ‘We must start to lead again.’ And, especially meaningful for those of us fortunate enough to be practitioners of science, ‘We must restore science to its rightful place in our society.’”

Here are my adds:

From the Pasadena Pops’ Rachael Worby:

i think as feel as many of us do, a great need to speak of the joy publicly
but an even greater need to experience it privately. i experienced an odd
solemnity when obama won the election- jovial elation eluded me- i had no
desire to pop a champagne cork. i wanted quiet.

i am overwhelmed by that same need now. i am not in washington. i should be,
i know, but i felt the presence of the revelers would bruise me.
this is a quiet and personal victory which represents a lifetime of
passionate protest.

p.s.

i was weaned on the music and the voice of pete seeger. my first owned
record album was “love songs for friends and foes” — a thick cardboard pink
jacket with a ben shahn drawing on the cover.

as a senior in high school i expended months of energy and passion
beseeching pete seeger to visit my high school to speak and to perform. we
hand-wrote missives back and forth to one another. one day, he said yes. he
lived not too far from my high school.

eventually the d.a.r. got word of pete seeger’s imminent appearance and
threatened to picket the school. my principal asked me to rescind the
invitation. for the first time in my life i confronted angst and despair.

he wasn’t good enough for spring valley senior high school but i am sure
glad that in 2009 he’s good enough for the lincoln memorial.

From Poly grad and former Star-News intern Liza McDonald Roberts, now a novelist in North Carolina:

I wish I had something interesting to report about my inaugural-watching….in Raleigh, NC, we got four inches of snow last night, so the kids have a snow day and are delightedly tracking wet footprints in and out, with the TV on in the background. They would have missed watching it for the most part if they’d been at school, so it’s a supersnowday.

We have several friends in DC today, and were amazed to see one of our best friends’ babies in Obama’s arms on the front page of the NYT today! Exciting times.

The whole shebang from my dad Milt Wilson in Hawaii:

We have only 26 letters and a few punctuation marks in the English language, but when permutated into a new, proper, order, they can form 18 minutes of a corrected direction for the nation’s role fof its own affairs, and for its interactions with the rest of thie world. “We must start to lead again.” And, especially meaningful for those of us fortunate enough to be practitioners of science, “we must restore science to its rightful place in our society.” We have had a so-called science advisor who believes in so-called Intelligent Design, and much of what we are now suffering through in our economic community is a result of such ignorance. The President-Elect drops that last modifier at exactly noon, Washington time, and I was particulary moved (and, yes, through my tears) when at that moment my television view was of a smiling skilled cello artist playing beautiful American music. Skill and talent once again become acceptable human character attributes. Wow, from three-fifth citizens not long ago, we have a President who can use his leadership skills to restore us to the position that this country deserves. Well done, Mr. President, well done.

From Pasadena historian Sid Gally:

In my mind all the time was how proud and happy Helen, my late wife, would have been.

From Muir grad Torrey Hanson, an actor with the Milwaukee Rep:

In my hotel room in Milwaukee, 17 degrees outside, Bialeti stove-top
espresso gurgling, rehearsal call 11:30 means mad dash through the snow
after swearing in.

From Pasadena film producer (“Terminator”) Gale Ann Hurd:

I am in DC, in gridlock, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be tomorrow than shivering here with a million+ fellow Americans.

From Pasadenan Denise Houlemard Jones:

While I was so fortunate to have had several opportunities to travel to Washington, DC for the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States – Barack Obama, and was invited to many large event viewing gatherings held locally, I elected to experience the inauguration at home with only my closest family members. This way I was guaranteed to have a front row seat, have the ability to hear each word, see each movement and really be there for this very significant occurrence in our country. In my lifetime, I have admired US Presidents, but feel especially inspired by the intelligence, strength, fortitude, thoughtfulness, eloquence and commitment of Barack Obama and his ability to instill hope into the citizens of the United States and the world.

During the television broadcast of the event, commentators and reporters repeatedly used the words “extraordinary” and “amazing” and those being interviewed repeatedly expressed their pride and their feeling of historic significance. I definitely share those sentiments, but what I found most striking about the day, was the humility, warmth and gratitude which exuded from President Barack Obama. His charm and grace are palpable and his encounters are always with respect and affection.

When I reflect on the challenges Barack Obama faces and obstacles that will confront him, it confirms the need for unity and teamwork as we move forward to “remake” our nation as our new president has expressed to us on numerous occasions. President Obama’s words are those of encouragement, reality and hope. As a resident of Pasadena since 1957, I pledge to do my part towards positive change in our country and answer President Barack Obama’s call to service.

From Pasadena novelist Naomi Hirahara:

As a writer who works at home, I was expecting to watch the inauguration by
myself but thankfully a friend, a playwright and poet who I had not seen for
years, called and invited me to her house in Mount Washington. One of the
attendees, stopping by on her way to work, took out her red, white, and blue
baseball cap and said this inauguration was not meant to be watched alone,
but in community. I agree.

I expected Obama, being the wonderful writer and orator that he is, to speak
soaring words that would possibly make me cry. I didn’t. But there was
something in the hard kernel of his speech–”the quiet force” of the
American values that resonated with me. Although it is a new era, an old
spirit needs to be summoned up. In the end, a place without words–the
clear notes of the orchestral music–and a place full of words–the simple
ones braided together by poet Elizabeth Alexander–exemplified for me the
moment of this historic inauguration. Now the hard work begins for all of
us!

From former Altadenan and Goo Goo Dolls drummer Mike Malinin:

My wife and I will be watching the inauguration at home. My band actually played at a fund raiser for Obama early last year at Universal City. He spoke afterwards, but I’m sorry to say I wasn’t able to stay for the speech due to prior commitments. But I did get my book and Time magazine (I believe it was the first time he was on the cover) autographed. So that was nice.
We hosted a small election party at my house, and it was a great moment when Obama officially won. Unfortunately, a couple hours later the results for the California props came through and we all got to see bigotry prevail with the passage of Prop 8. So my joy that evening was short lived. I think it is a momentous occasion to be part of the election of the first African American President. But I am more interested in the fact that he was the better candidate than in the fact that he is black. The fact that America barely seemed to notice that as a society we still hold gay people to clearly be inferior for some reason shows that we, as a people, seem to be rejoicing about our open mindedness about race while trying to bury the fact that we still have a long way to go in the goal of equal rights for all. But I clearly digress from your question.
So yes, I will be watching the inauguration from home with my wife. We will be alone.

From South Pasadena poet Ron Koertge:

I’m watching at home with Buddy the cat.

Mocking up the public art

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The Pasadena Center Operating Company put out mock-ups — size and massing only — of the much-discussed proposed public art pieces in front of the Civic Auditorium on East Green Street last Wednesday night.

The mock-ups will be out there this Wednesday the 21st from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon as well.

Last week, everyone in the Hatfields and McCoys tussling over this showed up to check it out. You could define it as preservationists vs. contemporary art aficionados — hardly mtually exclusive circles in most cases. Most are friends in every other political and social arena but this one. Here, they don’t agree on one little thing. It’s either great and contemporary and necessary or it’s blocking the classic architecture and sight lines.

Above is the low-tech version of the German guy’s reedy light poles; below is the New York guy’s Mosque of the K’aaba, er, Thinking Hats. Actually, the black curtains create an illusion that is most unfair, ’cause the piece itself would be more see-through and walk-under. But it would be tall.

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It’s Julia Morgan’s California: We just live in it

In a recent column, I took issue with Times columnist George Skelton’s questioning the wisdom of inducting, among other worthies, architect Julia Morgan into the California Hall of Fame.

It’s not just San Simeon that makes me make the Morgan argument. In fact, wonderful tourist attraction that it is, the castle always seems a bit more of an homage to the riches and ego of Hearst than its designer’s own statement, his lovely understatement in this letter to her notwithstanding: “…Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in tents at the ranch in San Simeon, I would like to build a little something…”

No, it’s that the first licensed woman architect in California is also one of our truly great architects on her own merits. Very little was built or survives in Los Angeles County, though the Pasadena YWCA building — one of those that makes the Civic Center so great — and the Herald Examiner building in Los Angeles surely come to mind.

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Driving to a writers’ retreat in Ojai recently, I came upon this hundred-year-old house just off Thacher Road, and exclaimed, not to my credit: “My God, it’s a Maybeck!” Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck and Morgan certainly shared some Arts + Crafts similarities. But this in fact is the Pierpont house by Morgan, and it’s as beautiful and site-specific among the Ojai oaks as any house ever designed in California.

Then, a couple of weeks later, attending a UC Berkeley campus meeting, I shot some images of her Berkeley City Club, straight out of Florence or Barcelona or Oaxaca, and had a swim in her indoor pool:

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Channeling Joe inside the Rose Bowl

One of the Penn State fans in the row behind us New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl was of that fanatical Nittany Lion type that worships at the cleats of longtime head coach Joe Paterno. Joe, recovering from a hip replacement, had to call his plays from the press box instead of from the sidelines, so she wore this mask of him almost the whole game so that we didn’t forget what His Holiness looks — looked is perhaps the right word, as this is not a recent mug — like.

It was a great crowd, and the Penn State fans took their thrashing at the hands of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez in good part, very happy to be in toasty Pasadena rather than wintertime Pa.