Empty Feeling as SPARC Exits

Saturday’s Arts Crawl marked the formal exit of SPARC — the South Pasadena Arts Council — as curator of the City Hall gallery, leaving the building’s hallways bare of artwork until the newly hired curator takes over next month.

“It was so sad … and I haven’t found one person yet who thought what they did was a good idea,’’ Lissa Reynolds, the founder of SPARC, told the Review a few days after she and a few others from her organization took down the installations on the first and second floors of City Hall.

Amid some controversy, SPARC lost a competition earlier this year to “11:11: A Creative Collective,’’ a firm based in Chatsworth, for curation services.

Both groups had bid $20,000 for the right to decorate City Hall’s walls for the next year, but the city’s Arts Commission opted for 11:11 following presentations by both potential curators, as well as by a third. In the end, the commission recommended to City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe that 11:11 get the gig.

Mayor Marina Khubesrian, the City Council’s liaison to the Arts Commission, told the Review recently that while SPARC’s local roots were appreciated, “They (the arts commissioners) felt they (11:11) would bring kind a new perspective to the city.’’

“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.’’

Khubesrian also said, “I feel really good about the process’’ and that “the rules were followed, it was very transparent.’’

SPARC, which had been running the City Hall gallery since last year, when the gallery first opened, actually saw its contract expire a few months ago but was allowed to keep its installations up through the fall Arts Crawl — one of the city’s premier events. 

“We didn’t want to leave them with bare walls, especially for the Arts Crawl,’’ Reynolds said.

SPARC was founded 10 years ago and runs all manner of arts-related endeavors in the city, not just the City Hall gallery until recently. Reynolds has said SPARC’s local roots should have been a factor in the selection of a City Hall curator, especially given SPARC’s and 11:11’s identical price tags. 

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

Reynolds’ husband James, also a SPARC member, told the City Council during public comments on Oct. 2 that his group getting the boot really stung. 

“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,’’ he said.

“We feel now … that we built a house and someone else has been allowed to move into it.’’

Meanwhile, the Review reached out to 11:11, the incoming curator, to see what’s being planned, but did not receive a return call.