After more than 16 years of showcasing modernistic California art, the Board of the Pasadena Museum of California Art has voted to close the institution at the conclusion of its current exhibitions, Executive Director Dr. Susana Smith Bautista said Tuesday.
The current exhibitions will run through October 7.
A saddened Smith Bautista told Pasadena Now that at the Board’s last meeting on June 13, Board Chair Jim Crawford made the recommendation to close the Museum. The Board Members who were present agreed, she said.
“There were four Board Members that were not in attendance,” said Smith Bautista. “So the Board Chair was able to speak with those four Members personally and then by email.”
“The museum has a great legacy,” Smith Bautista continued, “The legacy is strong. It’s all amazing exhibitions and publications and programs devoted to California art and design from the 1800’s to the present, and it’s done a great job. It’s informed a lot of people and motivated and employed a lot of people thanks to its amazing supporters, its members and donors, and sponsors. It’s been an amazing community.”
Word of the museum’s closing was met with sadness and regret by numerous members of Pasadena’s civic and cultural community.
“The news of the museum closing is startling and profoundly regrettable,” said Scott Ward, Executive Director of the Armory Center for the Arts. “This decision, I am sure, was driven by financial realities and reflects the collective challenge with long-term sustainability. The museum has made tremendous contributions to our region and it will be sorely missed. Its commitment to our communities, with a focus on our state, will not be easily duplicated. My heart goes out to all who have worked tirelessly over the years and I congratulate all the successes along the way.”
Former Pasadena Museum of California Arts Interim Executive Director Jay Belloli, who presided over the museum from July 2016 to June 2017, expressed shock and some anger over the closing.
Said Belloli, “I’m very distraught by the news, that’s all I can say at this point. I think this is really stressful to me because I think the museum is very important. It really focuses on California art. That is a really important subject and it’s been a major contributor to the cultural life of this city, let alone of people beyond this city. So I’m at a loss.”
Speaking to issue that possible financial difficulties prompted the Museum’s closure, Belloli said, “As far as I ever knew about the finances, they were always challenging, but not distressfully so. All I know is that basically in the last two years, I think the museum ended in the black, and so I don’t understand. That’s all I can tell you.”
Belloli added, “I’m trying to drink it all in here and I think I’m probably also angry because it’s been an important institution and I’m angry that the Board has decided to go forward with this.”
The Pasadena Museum of California Art was founded in June of 2002 to honor the rich and eclectic artistic and cultural history of California. With a mission that encompasses both historical and contemporary art, the Museum celebrates in equal measure the plein-air painters inspired by the region’s mountains and deserts—as well as today’s artists, some of whom have used Museum’s very building itself as the canvas.
As a non-collecting institution, the Museum developed temporary exhibitions with independent curators, which allows for flexible and dynamic programming. The Museum does not have a permanent collection.
Museum founders Bob and Arlene Oltman are longtime Pasadena residents and art lovers who collected California art for two decades. In 1999, they were struck with the idea to create a small gallery space that would exhibit the work of the state’s artists exclusively.
Founding Director Wesley Jessup decided to broaden the initial vision into a larger museum whose mission would also encompass showcasing design and architecture.
Bautista couldn’t offer any details as to what prompted the Board’s decision but said the Museum will close at the conclusion of the current Judy Chicago exhibition.
Nine full-time employees and three part-time attendants of the museum will reportedly lose their jobs when the museum closes.
The Museum is at 490 East Union Street. For more information about the museum, readers may visit pmcaonline.org.