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Going for the Gold: California Stories on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Communities, Public Art, and Placemaking.: 10. Pat Ward Williams, Everyday People, Lake Avenue Station

The project was funded in 2008-2009 by the California Council for the Humanities through its California Stories: California Story Fund


Everyday People, 2003

Pat Ward Williams

The installation

Everyday People consists of life-size black and white portraits of ordinary people who live in the area, portrayed at the moment they are doing common everyday things, such as looking around, holding an umbrella, sticking out a hand, sweeping, walking, and strutting.[1]  These photographs are embedded in 16 of the 35 reflective diachronic glass panels located in the station’s two enclosed street-level entrances.[2]  The reflection of Gold Line patrons moving through the space  combined with the changing color that appears in the panels as the viewer changes position, draws the viewer into a dialogue with the Everyday People framing the rooms.  

History, 1993-2001

In the Spring of 1993, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) held a series of public meetings in Pasadena to inform the community about the light rail project and the public art program that was coming to their city.[3]  At these meeting, people were invited to participate in the art creation process by joining one of the three Community Advisory Committees (CAC) that were being established for the six Pasadena stations.[4]  One committee was for the three stations on the Foothill Freeway (Route 210): Lake Avenue; Allen Street; and Sierra Madre Villas.  During the summer, the 14 member CAC for the three freeway stations prepared a Community Profile to guide the artists in creating art that would be relevant to the communities surrounding the stations.  Rather than preparing one profile for all three stations, the CAC wrote individual profiles for each station.[5] 

The CAC then elected two members to the five member artist selection panel that was responsible for the three stations.  On October 5, 1993, the panel met for the first time and created a short list of 57 artists after reviewing slides of over 600 artists in the Metro Art slide registry.[6]  A week later, the panel looked more closely at the artists on the short list, and selected seven finalists for the three stations.  On November 2, the finalists were interviewed by the panel. Each artist was asked about their experience working in collaborative projects, their interest in the project, their availability, and their ability to satisfy the MTA requirement that the art last for a minimum of 30 years.[7]  Following the interviews, the panel voted and awarded the Lake Street station design to Pat Ward Williams.[8] 

Shortly after being selected, Williams met with the station architects, Miralles Associates, to discuss how her installation would fit in with the design of the station.[9]  She also reviewed the Community Profile developed by the Community Advisory Committee to learn about the people who lived near, worked in, and passed through the area.  She was struck by the area’s demographic profile divided by the 210 Freeway between a predominately white, professional, and wealthy population on the south and a predominately Hispanic, Black, and lower income population on the north.[10]

From the beginning, William wanted to humanize the space, which she saw as an urban mixed use environment.  She wanted her installation to relate to the “ordinary people who did ordinary things there”[11] by incorporating photographs in colored glass at the two street-level station entrances.  After initially considering historic photographs, Williams decided to incorporate family photographs along with text from oral histories of the families who provided the photographs.  She planned to obtain this material at public meetings where people would bring family photographs and tell stories about their family.  She then planned to meet with community groups which would help her select the photos and stories for the station.[12]  She felt that by involving the community in the selection process along with the use of the photographs and text, her installation would create a “personal narrative” that would simultaneously construct the area’s history, engage the diverse communities near the station to “buy into” the project, and give viewers a feeling for the lives of the families who live and work there.[13]  This concept was put on hold in late 1995 when construction of the light rail stopped due to cost-overruns.

History, 2001-2003

When construction resumed in January 2001 under the newly established Pasadena Blue Line Authority, Williams was given a new contract to design artwork for the Lake Avenue Station.[14]  By the summer of 2001, she had developed a revised design.  Its concept was similar to her earlier proposal of  having photographs of people incorporated in colored glass at the station’s two entrances.  However, she eliminated the text and substituted black and white portraits of “people caught in the moment of everyday gestures” for the earlier planned family photographs.[15]  She also replaced the colored glass with reflective Dichronic class that changed color as the viewer’s position shifted.  Instead of putting the panels only in the station entrances, Williams also wanted to install them along the fencing on Lake Street to create a colorful light show for pedestrians and for people in passing cars.[16]   These panels would have also created the appearance for freeway drivers below of people waving at them from the overpass.[17]  This concept was approved by the Pasadena Arts Commission on August 8, 2001,[18] and the City of Pasadena Light Rail Station Design Review Committee on September 20, 2001.[19]

On June 10, 2002, Williams sent out an invitation to the community to participate in a photo shoot and possibly be immortalized as one of the subjects portrayed in the station.  Interested participants were asked to bring either a hat, an article of clothing that expressed their personalities or something that was uniquely theirs.[20]  Though she does not wear hats, Williams feels they “are very personal and they not only describe a personality and style but sometimes are a visual manifestation of how the person is feeling that day.”[21]  Between June 17 and 19, more than 100 people came to the Pasadena Armory Center for the Arts to be photographed.[22]  Among the people who showed up was a woman with her pet duckling, a man dressed as a train conductor, a judge with his robes, two little girls dressed as princesses, four firemen from station 36 in full regalia, and gardeners from the Oakland Community Garden with their rakes and shovels.[23] 

Williams described her selection of the photographs for the installation as a “subtractive” process.  She first selected portraits that would fit in the vertical window, and from that picked ones that conveyed the subject’s personality and represented a diversity of people.  “I tried to keep a mix of men and women and old and young and children and ethnic groups.” [24]  She also selected figures to match the various size glass panels and how they related to each other when the portrait depicted a person from the right or left side.  Finally, her selection was narrowed by budget constraints reducing the 46 panels she originally planned to have, which included the panels on the fencing along Lake Street, to the final 16.[25]  Through this selection process, Williams had to discard portraits she loved such as the four firemen from station 36.[26] 

Williams was extremely dissatisfied with the panels after they were fabricated and did not want them installed because they had “stripes” or striations in them.[27]  She was particularly unhappy with one panel that had a stripe that went across the face of the person in the photograph.[28]  To resolve the issue, Carlson & Co., the fabricator of the panels, re-did, under her supervision, the panel containing “Father and Son” that is in the east mezzanine.[29]  When the panels were installed, Williams was still not completely satisfied by their quality.  However, nobody else seemed to notice the problem and she was greatly relieved by the positive feedback from both the public and the people memorialized in the installation.[30] 


Pat Ward Williams (1948 - ) received her BFA in photography at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia and her MFA in photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art.  Among her public art commissions are the Gilbert Lindsay Memorial at the Los Angeles Convention Center and a project for the Hollywood & Highland Entertainment Center.  In addition to receiving a Ford Foundation Grant and a Fulbright Fellowship, she has received Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the California Community Foundation Getty Trust.  Her work has been exhibited in South Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Europe.  In the United States, her work has been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Museum, and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas.  She has taught at Bowie State University in Maryland, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, California Institute of Arts in Valencia, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Witswatersrand and Funda College in South Africa.  She is now a Professor of Art at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. 

[1] Lake Avenue Station, Art Concept, 35%  Submission, Pat Ward Williams, August 21, 2001.

[2] Letter from Carlson & Co. to Pat Ward Williams, re: Lake Avenue Station glass artwork, May 12, 2003.

[3] Letter from Monica Gonzales to John Jontig, listing dates of community meetings, April 12, 1993.

[4] Announcement of MTA Public Meeting Pasadena Light Rail Transit Project, with attached list of dates, times and locations of meeting, no date.

[5] Lake Avenue, Allen Avenue and Sierra Madre Villa Stations Community Profile, Community Advisory Committee, Art for Rail Transit, Pasadena Light Rail Transit Project, no date.

[6] Letter from Alan Nakagawa to Marsia Alexander listing dates of meetings, September 29, 1993; Lake/Allen/Sierra Madre Villa A-R-T Program Short List, no date.

[7] Pasadena Light Rail Transit Project, Lake/Allen/Sierra Madre Villa Artist Selection Interviews, November 2, 1993.

[8] Letter from Alan Nakagawa to Pat Ward Williams, November 2, 1993.

[9] Pat Ward Williams, interview by Michael Several, October 4, 2009.

[10] Proposed Artwork for the Pasadena Blue Line Lake Avenue Station Submitted by Pat Ward Williams, December 21, 1993.

[11] Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[12] Proposed Artwork, Op. Cit.

[13] Ibid, Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[14] Service Contract between Kiewit/Washington, and Pat Ward Williams, January 5, 2001.

[15] Lake Avenue Station, Art Concept 35% Submission, Pat Ward Williams, August 21, 2001.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[18] Draft Minutes Special Meeting Arts Commission, August 8, 2001.

[19] Draft Minutes of City of Pasadena Light Rail Station Design Review Committee meeting, September 20, 2001; letter from James G. Ball to John Jontig re: Potential Betterments for Stations, October 26, 2001.

[20] Press Release, “Be A Part of the Art-Metro Gold Line Artist Looking for community Members to Photograph for Public Art at Lake Stations, June 10, 2002; Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[21] Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[22] “Pasadena residents line up for chance to be immortalized,” newspaper article, newspaper not shown, no date.

[23] Public Art Program, Lake Avenue Station, Los Angeles to Pasadena Construction Authority, July 15, 2003; Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[24] Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Letter from Pat Ward Williams to Chris Miller, no date, attached to email from Pat Ward Williams to Maya Emsden re: Art Glass at Lake Ave. Station, May 6, 2003.

[28] Williams interview, Op. Cit.

[29] Memorandum from Lesley Elwood to Habib Balian, Susan Hodor, re: Lake Avenue Artwork, July 21, 2003.

[30] Email from Pat Ward Williams to Maya Emsden re: your work, September 17, 2003.