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City's Breach of Gift Policy Led to Mural's Loss, Arts Commission Says

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By Jorge Casuso

September 24, 2019 -- The City of Santa Monica committed an "unexplained breach" of policy when it decided not to accept an iconic mural without a public process, the Arts Commission said in a letter last week to the City Council.

The September 17 letter from Commission Chair Michael Myers said the City failed to follow its "well-established" 2004 Gifts and Loans Policy that would have given the community an opportunity to save the "highly visible" mural.

Instead, the historic mosaic by renown California artist Millard Sheets that had stood at the corner of 26th Street and Wilshire Boulevard for nearly 50 years is headed to the City of Orange.

"Pleasures Along the Beach" by Millard Sheets
"Pleasures Along the Beach" by Millard Sheets (Photo by Peter Leonard)

"What remains dismaying is the unexplained breach of City’s well-established public process," Myers wrote on behalf of the Commission.

"Had the City’s public process been followed, the community would have had their opportunity to consider the piece and whether it had a future in the City," the letter said.

While the mural was removed as part of a legal settlement with Wilshire-26, the owner of the former Home Savings building, the City Attorney "went to great lengths to protect the opportunity for a public process," Myers wrote.

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The letter quotes the judgment in the lawsuit the City Council voted to settle last September ("Iconic Santa Monica Mosaic Could Be Removed Under Legal Settlement," September 5, 2018).

“City may inform Wilshire-26 in writing that it wishes to receive, without charge (other than the cost of its transporting to the new location), such Artwork for purposes of finding a permanent location where the Artwork can be displayed."

Consequently, Myers wrote, “There was no rush to dispose of the piece."

"The settlement provided ample time to engage in a process and whether it was due to a lack of bandwidth or lack of communication between departments this process did not happen."

Meyers also re-iterated the Commission's "dismay" upon learning the mural had been lost ("Distressed" Arts Commission Learns Why Santa Monica Lost Its Iconic Mural," June 20, 2019).

"When it comes to arts retention and uses cultural affairs and the Commission should be in the driver's seat," he wrote.

"The Commission did not learn about the piece's fate until well after its relocation had been finalized."

Had the Commission been informed by staff, it could have launched the kind of public efforts that helped save the "Chain Reaction" sculpture at the Civic Center and retain tenants at Bergamot Art Center after it sold.

"The Commission felt that given its recent success with engaging the public around 'Chain Reaction' and Bergamot it could have been an asset to the city with regards to engaging in a public process around 'Pleasures Along the Beach,'" Myers said.

"The Commission was disappointed that it was not given an opportunity to explore utilizing the Santa Monica Arts Foundation to act as a fiscal receiver to raise money to keep the piece in Santa Monica as it did for the restoration of 'Chain Reaction.'"

Myers noted that the iconic mural "may still have ended up in Orange County" but added that "sadly, we'll never know."

"This piece meant a lot to many residents of Sana Monica, and it is a real shame that it was lost without a fight," Myers wrote.

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