Guest Opinion | Erika Foy | Serious Concerns About That Glenarm Public Art Project

Published : Sunday, April 15, 2018 | 12:14 PM

Pasadena is an iconic city full of historic architecture, charming neighborhoods, renowned gardens, and museums, leading educational institutions, and nationally televised events including the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl. The City of Pasadena is currently considering another soon-to-be iconic landmark — a public art project by sculptor and installation artist Alice Aycock. There is no question that public art enhances our city by helping to create a visual story of who we are, and I believe we are very fortunate to live in a city where investment in public art is a high priority. But at $740,000, this investment of public art funds is thought to be the largest in Pasadena history, and as such, I have some serious concerns regarding the proposed location of this installation at the Glenarm Power plant along the city’s southern entrance.

My husband overheard my conversation with a fellow neighbor and said, “Erika, why do you care about the city spending money on public art? At least they are trying to do something nice for the power plant.” While he is correct that it does seem crazy to be complaining about public art expenditures, I feel that with our city’s rich history, Pasadena is unlike any other city in the country. We understand what it means to have high standards and honor them.

The Glenarm Power Plant isn’t exactly a pedestrian thoroughfare, and as currently planned, this installation will only be viewable from the car. There are serious concerns regarding road safety and the level of distraction this artwork will create for drivers at the end of the freeway. At the very least, this art should be accessible on foot and so that it can be experienced up close. On a larger level, this project is only planned to last 30 years. How will history judge this moment and this vote to spend three-quarters of a million dollars to dress up an eyesore and hazardous waste site? I question whether the power plant is something we should be enhancing at all. What will visitors and residents think about the decision to put an LED-lit bandaid on a defunct power plant when there are so many other areas of our city that could benefit from a project of this scale?

I hope the council will reflect on the following questions before voting to approve the project:

  • Should the $740,000 be spent on an public art project that will last longer than 30 years but rather a lifetime?
  • Will residents feel that the city created public art that represents them and the city they love?
  • Will Pasadena residents be celebrating this installation?
  • Is this a story of collaboration between residents and city staff or just a project brought forth by a limited group of stakeholders?
  • Will this art expenditure revitalize Arroyo Parkway and bring needed tax revenue to our city by increasing visitors to area?

While I enthusiastically support public art, I further feel that since it is public art, the City should seek work that is somewhat less avant-garde and polarizing, and instead approve a project that’s likely to be at least somewhat more widely appealing and reflective of Pasadena as a whole.

Erika Foy is a long time Pasadena resident who has recently become active within her Madison Heights neighborhood. She acts as Vice President of Membership of MHNA and she is a frequent speaker during public comments at City Council on various issues.

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