City Council Selects Members of First-Ever So Pas Arts Commission

The South Pasadena City Council has named the members of the new Public Arts Commission, which will oversee displays like this one at City Hall. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena City Council at its last meeting named the five members of the city’s first-ever Public Arts Commission, which will advise officials on a robust approach to inculcate all that is artistic into the public arena.

The new approach also will establish fees on developments that will help fund public displays of art.

The council began the process of adopting the new approach to art at its October meeting, where it approved the plan that will help pay for art throughout the city.

The plan will require developers “to devote one percent of a project’s value to a fund that would be used for public art within that development or pay 1.5 percent of the value to a fund that would be used for public art projects citywide,” according to a statement released by the city back in October.

The fees would apply to new residential developments that are of four units or greater, commercial projects of $500,000 or more, and remodeling projects worth $250,000 or more.

“The Arts Commission is a critical component of the arts initiative approved by the Council late last year,” said Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian in an email to The Review. “The Commission will provide expertise and oversight on public art projects, including those funded by new development projects. Having an Arts Commission, and especially one with such talented and passionate individuals as were named this week, speaks to South Pasadena’s commitment to the arts and creating an environment where the arts flourish.”

The new commissioners agreed with Khubesrian and were at the council meeting Feb. 6, where they voiced excitement about serving a city they love.

“I’ve lived in South Pasadena for two years,” said Betty Avila, who was recommended to be an arts commissioner by Councilmember Diana Mahmud. “I’m very deeply involved in the arts in the City of .A. where I grew up but I’m really excited to become more involved in the city where I now live and fulfill my civic duty to South Pasadena.”

When a new So Pas commission is formed, each City Councilmember recommends a person to serve on the commission. Each new Arts Commissioner spoke during the council meeting and echoed Avila’s comments.

“I’m a resident of South Pasadena and I’ve been a resident for over eight years,” said Steven Wong, who was recommended by Mayor Pro Tem Robert Joe. “I’ve been involved with the arts for most of my life but primarily in the city of Los Angeles. I would love to contribute my expertise to help out the city of South Pasadena, which I’ve grown to love.”

Howard Spector, who was recommended by Councilmember Dr. Richard Schneider, also expressed his commitment to bringing an energized arts culture to South Pasadena.

“I am the Chief Operating Officer of the South Pasadena Arts Council and I’ve been an artist and an art administrator for most of my life,” he said during the commissioners comments at the council meeting. “I’m very happy to be a part of this. I’ve had a lot of experience in public art so I’m happy to be a part of this commission.”

Artist Jeffrey Burke, who was recommended by Councilmember Michael Cacciotti, said he was a working artist with a studio in So Pas.

“I am pleased and honored to be on the initial Arts Commission,” Burke said. “I am a working artist and I have a studio right across the street from Trader Joe’s. And you or anyone else are always welcome to come and knock on our door and get a quick tour.”

Then Jaz Sawyer, a resident of So Pas for five years, summed up the public comments from the newest commission, attributing his interest in the local art community to another commissioner.

“I’ve been a resident of South Pasadena for five fabulous years and I have to give a shout-out to my colleague Howard (Spector) who actually introduced me or helped me realize South Pasadena is an exploding place of culture and art. I’ve seen that really accelerate over the last couple years. I want to applaud the city for giving the support for arts and music. I wanted to get involved with council because I am a product of the public music school system. I was born in San Francisco, California, (where) the music programing was funded. And, if you have that, you can really have some successful people. So, that’s why I want to get involved and look forward to inspiring and mentoring the youth here in the city so they can go and be successful in their endeavors.”

Although the council did not speak directly about the Arts Commission during the last meeting on Feb 6, they have done so repeatedly at past council meetings.

As an example, Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian addressed the importance of the commission in October when she was the mayor pro tem. Khubesrian represents District 2.

“I think we have really good people to make this happen. There’s so much passion behind the arts in this community. People are willing to put in the hard work…This helps us move forward.”

Councilwoman Diana Mahmud of District 5 agreed during that same council meeting, which was on Oct. 3, saying she was gratified this was not just another good idea left to “languish” on a scrap heap. Mahmud also said the city was slow getting to this when compared to other nearby cities but was glad to see it finally moving forward.

Councilman Michael Cacciotti seemed to sum up the council’s sentiments about the new approach to public displays of art when he said So Pas was experiencing a renaissance.

“There’s really a renaissance [of the arts] in South Pasadena,”  Councilman Michael Cacciotti, District 4, said during the meeting. “You take a snapshot 15 or 20 years ago and this wasn’t the same city. It’s an incredible renaissance that so many people have worked hard for.”

South Pasadena City Hall has already gone through an arts-related transformation. City Hall has become a De Facto art gallery, exhibiting paintings and photographs.

The recently installed paintings even prompted a longtime community activist and past president of Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action, Bianca Richards, to congratulate the city on the art at its Feb. 6 meeting.

“This is the first meeting I’ve come to in this year and I’ve noticed the art on the wall and I just wanted to say, ‘It’s wonderful.’ Thank you,” Richards said.

The city is going to have rotating art exhibits at the entrance of City Hall. The rotating exhibits will be co-sponsored by the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC). The art installations will also include sculptures in the outdoor courtyard that faces Mission Street, according to the prepared statement.

“Beyond aesthetics, public art programs give cities a stronger sense of community and boost economic development,” Stephanie DeWolfe, city manager, said in an earlier statement. “We see this as a major milestone in South Pasadena’s evolution as an arts community.”

City officials also said the program will build on a foundation already set-in-motion by community-based arts groups, whose efforts have produced the quarterly South Pasadena Arts Crawls as well as the Eclectic Music Festival that shut down Mission Street this past summer, where thousands of visitors came to hear the music and witness art installations throughout the city.

The New Public Arts Commission:

Howard Spector (Councilmember Schneider Appointment; term ending December 31, 2020); Betty Avila (Councilmember Mahmud Appointment; term ending December 31, 2022); Jeffrey Burke (Councilmember Cacciotti Appointment; term ending December 31, 2022); Steven Wong (Mayor Pro Tem Joe Appointment; term ending December 31, 2020); Jaz Sawyer (Mayor Khubesrian Appointment; term ending December 31, 2020).