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Arts Commission Declines to Seek Explanation for Treasured Mural's Loss

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By Jorge Casuso

January 30, 2020 -- The Arts Commission on Monday defeated a motion asking the City to reconsider releasing documents that could explain why it rejected a 50-year-old iconic mural without the public's knowledge.

Commission Chair Mike Myers had hoped the documents would shed light on the behind-the-scenes decision to turn down "Pleasures Along the Beach," a large mosaic by renown California artist Millard Sheets.

The City had withheld or heavily redacted key documents released under the Public Records Act, determining the public's interest was better "served by nondisclosure."

"While we understand the City is worried about setting a precedent concerning attorney client privileges, we wanted them to show us a little more of the deliberative process," said Commission Chair Mike Myers.

"I guess now we'll never know," Myers said.

Commissioner Phil Brock, who joined Myers in casting the only vote for the motion, said he was "amazed" by the lack of support from the Commission, which learned the City had rejected the mosaic from new reports in The Lookout.

"I left furious," Brock said. "To me, it was a disgrace. This was ridiculous."

Brock, who has served on City Commissions for 18 years, said he never left a meeting as frustrated as he did Monday night.

The Arts Commission, he said, "complains once in a while that they feel impotent. Well, Monday night they were. It looked like they didn't give a damn."

Tuesday's vote comes six months after "distressed" Arts Commissioners grilled the City's top cultural official on why they were kept in the dark ("Distressed" Arts Commission Learns Why Santa Monica Lost Its Iconic Mural," June 20, 2019).

Frustrated by staff's explanations, the Commission sent a letter to City officials concerning the "unexplained breach" of the City's Gifts and Loans Policy ("City's Breach of Gift Policy Led to Mural's Loss, Arts Commission Says," September 24, 2019).

City officials failed to respond to the letter, and a former Arts Commissioner requested documents under the Public Records Act in an effort to obtain an answer ("PART I -- City Leaves Public in the Dark Over Loss of Iconic Mural," January 16, 2020).

Myers placed the discussion item on the Commission's agenda Monday saying the City's heavily redacted documents "look like the Muller Report" ("Arts Commission to Seek Full Disclosure of Iconic Mural's Loss," January 24, 2020).

After rejecting Myer's motion, the Commission subsequently approved his request for a joint meeting with officials from the offices of the City Attorney, the City Manager and Cultural Affairs to help better understand what had transpired and how it could be prevented.

"This reinforces my opinion that we have a cultural crisis in the City, and we have to figure out ways to have the staff be more nimble," Myers said.

"When you don't have the different (departments) cooperating, it's really difficult," he said.

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