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Arts Commission to Seek Full Disclosure of Iconic Mural's Loss

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By Jorge Casuso

January 24, 2020 -- The Arts Commission on Monday is expected to take initial steps to uncover key documents that could explain why City officials rejected an iconic mosaic that stood in Santa Monica for 50 years.

The mosaic was eventually donated by its owner to a museum in Orange County, where it will be the centerpiece of its new campus ("Santa Monica's Treasured Mosaic to Be Centerpiece of Orange County Museum Expansion," January 21, 2020).

The Commission's move comes after The Lookout reported City officials withheld and heavily redacted documents released under the Public Records Act that could reveal how the behind-the-scenes decision was made ("PART I -- City Leaves Public in the Dark Over Loss of Iconic Mural," January 16, 2020).

Redacted emaiil 1 Redacted email 2Samples of emails redacted by the City

The item added to the agenda by Commission Chair Mike Myers calls for the City to release the full text of heavily redacted documents he said "look like the Muller Report."

Citing California law, the City withheld or redacted the key documents, releasing only brief email exchanges, mostly between staff; long news articles on similar projects and descriptions and pictures of the mosaic.

"In weighing the public interest," City officials wrote, "the City finds that the public interest served by nondisclosure of (the requested documents) clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure."

The agenda item also requests a report from City Manager Rick Cole regarding the large mosaic by renown California artist Millard Sheets that stood on the corner of 26th and Wilshire.

"We're asking for a full accounting, a full comprehensive report on how they made the decision" to reject the mural, Myers told The Lookout.

"I think the report should come from the City Manager or City Attorney."

Myers said City officials have failed to respond to his September 17 letter concerning the "unexplained breach" that kept the Arts Commission in the dark ("City's Breach of Gift Policy Led to Mural's Loss, Arts Commission Says," September 24, 2019).

"After that letter was sent, we haven't heard back from anybody," Myers said. "I think things happened on a higher level than cultural affairs. They all seem to pass the buck to another department.

"I don't know why it's so hard to have a full mea culpa," he said.

Former Vice Chair Corin Kahn -- who is expected to also call for a full explanation -- says he doesn't buy the City's assurance that "this will never happen again."

"The first question is what is the 'this' the Arts Commission has been promised 'will never happen again'?"

The redacted emails, Kahn said, "do not show that there was any deliberation, what that deliberation consisted of, or what, if any, decision was made at the conclusion of a deliberation, if any."

"So at this moment, neither the public nor the Arts Commission knows the answers to these three questions and therefore what the 'this' is that the Arts Commission was promised “'will never happen again.'”

Myers, who has served on the Commission for 12 years, said he is frustrated with the efforts to block information by a City that prides itself on its transparency.

"It just seems the process has been very secretive," he said. "Without these full answers, how can we in the community trust these people with anything."

Arts Commissioner Phil Brock called the City's handling of the mosaic and what he believes is a subsequent coverup "muralgate."

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