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Pasadena Museum of California Art to Close

After sixteen years in operation, the Pasadena Museum of California Art will shutter when its current exhibition season comes to an end in October. Board chair Jim Crawford first recommended that the noncollecting museum should close in a board meeting held on Wednesday, June 13. Since not all of the thirteen members of the board were in attendance, a vote was conducted via email, and the decision was reached on June 18. The reason for the closure was not given.

“After sixteen years of presenting art and design through exhibitions that explore the unique cultural dynamic of California, the board of directors would like to thank all of the museum members, donors, contributors, lenders, and especially our hard working, dedicated staff who have made this wonderful adventure possible,” the board said in a statement.

Located at 490 East Union Street since 2002, the museum was founded by longtime Pasadena residents and philanthropists Bob and Arlene Oltman, who actually reside above the cultural institution, on the building’s penthouse floor. According to the New York Times, the Oltmans spent $5 million to build the museum and initially financed the institution’s operating costs, which were estimated to be $400,000 per year, for the first five years.

Commenting on the closure, Larry Wilson, an editor at the Pasadena Star-News, wrote an op-ed in which he said: “The museum occupies an unusual place in these parts—nowhere else focuses solely on the artistic cultures of our state, from indigenous peoples to today. From the Eucalyptus School to Diebenkorn to the extraordinary just-opened ‘Judy Chicago’s Birth Project: Born Again’ by the most important feminist artist of our time.”

Wilson interviewed executive director Susana Smith Bautista about the closure, but she was not able to fill in the gaps. “I would be happy to stay,” Smith Bautista said. “I am an eternal optimist. But a lot of changes would have to be made—changes the board has been discussing since a March retreat. We have great consultants and good strategic plans. But the board quickly realized it has . . . other issues to deal with.”

Scott Ward, executive director of the Armory Center for the Arts, told Pasadena Now, “The news of the museum closing is startling and profoundly regrettable.”

He added: “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.”

While many in the art world might be quick to assume that financial issues were to blame for the troubles at the museum, Jay Belloli, a former interim director of the museum, has doubts. While it had struggled with monies in the past, he believes that the institution has been in the black for the last couple of years.

Among the final exhibitions that are on view at the institution are “Judy Chicago’s Birth Project: Born Again,” “Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California,” and “Brody Albert: Strata.”