Viewpoint: What it really means to be in the Village
by Steve Comba
David Shearer’s recent opinion piece (Viewpoint, February 12) about the proposed Pomona College Museum of Art raises some critical issues.
Until now, I have been reluctant to address this situation publicly because I am an employee of Pomona College. I am, however, also a citizen of Claremont, a member of the arts community and an advocate both for the institution for which I have worked for 30 years and also for numerous other community ventures in which I have been involved—from art walks and studio visits to my role in the founding of the Claremont Museum of Art. As such, I feel entitled to speak up.
What is missing from the ongoing debate about the location of the new Pomona College Museum of Art is, I believe, an understanding of the symbolic benefits of the proposed site.
“Location” has become such a clichéd measure of success in real estate and business that we can forget how critical the location of a civic building is to the way an institution is perceived by the community. To site the new museum at the border of town and gown, where the public can feel welcomed and involved, makes a profound statement about the goals of this museum, and also about the democratic imperative of all museums to reflect our diverse values, celebrate our achievements in the arts and welcome the broadest possible public.
Mr. Shearer’s contention that Claremont’s citizens want a new museum, just not on the proposed site, overlooks the critical symbolism and value of place.
Pomona College has, over the past several years, considered a number of potential museum sites, some of which have been presented in public and private meetings held during the past year. The critical difference between these sites and the one now proposed is that the latter demonstrates the museum’s commitment to the city of Claremont in a way that would not be possible on the east side of College Avenue.
The new PCMA will be an identifiable part of the cultural fabric of this city. This basic fact is the game changer here. There are actual walls around some colleges; and there are, around others, perceived walls that, although only symbolic, still create a barrier between town and gown. The new PCMA is to be situated outside those college “walls,” embedded in the city as is appropriate to a fully public, civic institution.
To one who has long advocated for the relevance of the artistic history of this city, and who has a long history of community involvement as a working artist, it has been disheartening to find that residents of Claremont who, I believe, should be steadfastly supportive of the museum’s new site, are, instead, working to undermine the project through unnecessary delays or using the debate for personal or political agendas.
Every change involves tradeoffs; the question is how we measure the relative value of the options offered. It seems clear to me (and certainly to many others) that the move of a house, replacement of a few trees and, perhaps, a shift in our parking habits, are more than worth the value gained. This museum will serve the citizens of Claremont and enhance the reputation of the city and its arts community in ways that no other venture has ever accomplished.
To a person, the museum staff, college administration and the museum’s volunteer corps are committed to the museum’s mission, which is based on a belief in and passion for sharing Pomona College’s resources broadly, for the common good.
Whether reflected in presenting exhibitions that show work from throughout the world or in welcoming every third grader in the Claremont Unified School District or the ArtStart program, this commitment is a gesture of civic engagement that is unprecedented in Claremont (and, quite possibly, any other city of this size in southern California).
This new museum will be free to the public. It will not ask you for a donation; it isn’t a commercial operation with bookstore or gift shop. We simply invite our community to enjoy our exhibitions and programs freely.
I hope that those who are opposed to the site will rethink their objections, take into account the years of thought and hard work that have gone into these plans and, particularly, understand the sincere desire that the new museum become fully part of the life of the city of Claremont.