SP Arts Group Miffed Over Gallery Switch

SPARC — the South Pasadena Arts Council — will soon have its stamp removed from the City Hall art gallery, to be replaced by an out-of-town curator. Photo by Henk Friezer

“SPARC” is out as curator of the City Hall art gallery — and sparks are flying.

“It kinda feels like our baby, and our baby’s been given away,’’ Lissa Reynolds, founder of the 10-year-old South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC), told the Review this week following news that, starting next month, her group would no longer be curating the art that’s on display along the walls of City Hall.

SPARC has been running the City Hall gallery since last year, when the gallery first opened. But the group received word in late September that another firm — “11:11: A Creative Collective,” curators based in Chatsworth — had won a bidding process and would soon be taking over.

“That was a little shocking, because we’ve only gotten praise for what we’ve done,’’ said Reynolds, who runs the Fremont Centre Theatre with her husband, the actor James Reynolds — another SPARC member who also has spoken out against the transition, calling it “a mistake.”

The decision to switch curators was ultimately made by City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe — but it was based on the recommendation made to her office by the city’s Public Arts Commission, a five-member panel of arts professionals that is approved by the City Council but works independently from the council.

Earlier this year, the commission put out word that it would be accepting Requests For Proposal, or RFPs, to curate the gallery — a move it was legally bound to do after the council budgeted $20,000 for curation services.

By law, any city contract of more the $5,000 must go out to competitive bidding (though after that process, any contract under $25,000 is within the purview of the city manager to approve, without the need of the council’s OK).

Three organizations, including SPARC and 11:11, put in bids of exactly $20,000. All made presentations to the commission, which opted for 11:11.

Mayor Marina Khubesrian, who is the liaison to the Arts Commission, said that while the commission considered budgetary factors, the decision go to with 11:11 was ultimately based on “all kinds of arts reasons.’’

“They made the choice based on artistic reasons, not political reasons,’’ Khubesrian said. “That’s why we have an Arts Commission. We don’t want art to be political.’’

“They (the arts commissioners) felt they (11:11) would bring kind a new perspective to the city.’’

But on the budgetary side, Khubesrian added, 11:11’s presentation broke down the costs of curating each of the four sections of City Hall where art will be hung starting in November, while SPARC presented “more of a global budget.”

Currently, art is hung in City Hall’s first- and second-floor corridors. But starting in November, the Council Chambers and outdoor courtyard will be added to the canvas.

Reynolds, for her part, said SPARC “only found out that we were going to present to the commission just a few days before the presentation’’ — and so didn’t have the chance to get as specific, budgetarily, as 11:11 did.

But more significantly than that, Reynolds said, SPARC’s year-long history with the gallery, as well as its 10-year history in the city, should have counted for something more in the decision process — particularly given the similarity of the bids.

“The thing is, SPARC created the gallery and we have done it successfully for the past year, with no criticisms,’’ Reynolds said. “There should be some kind of rating, not just judging on presentations — but the work.

“We don’t really know the people on the Arts Commission (but) we feel they didn’t know what the history of SPARC was. That should have weight in the decision.’’

Reynolds also said that, in choosing an out-of-town curator, the commission was turning its back on the city economically.

“When they choose somebody from out of town … somehow I don’t think the money is going back into the city,’’ Reynolds said.

Reynolds initially took SPARC’s beef public at the Oct. 2 City Council meeting, reading a statement that read, in part, “We are disappointed that the city’s Arts Commission has chosen to turn the reins over to a company … with no roots in South Pasadena and no obligations to spend the funds it receives in our community.

“We are concerned that serious, informed consideration was not given to SPARC’s founding history with the gallery or to the solid experience of our curator, SPARC board member Blue Trimarchi, owner of Art Works Fine Art Publishing, Inc.’’

Reynolds’ husband James made a similar point when he address the council on Oct. 2.

“The City Hall gallery is the brainchild of SPARC,’’ he said. “And we feel now, even though there’s obviously nothing we can do about it, but that we built a house and someone else has been allowed to move into it. I don’t know if there’s any other way of looking at this.

“We understand this community, we understand the artistic aspects of this community, we understand the business part of the community, we understand the citizens of this community.’’

Khubesrian, meanwhile, said, “I can understand being disappointed in not being selected … (but) it doesn’t mean they (SPARC) can’t come back next year’’ and win the bidding process.

Overall, the mayor said, “I feel really good about the process.’’

“The rules were followed, it was very transparent,’ ’ she said.