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Is the Art Museum Truly Independent?

February 12, 1989

Your reporter (Tracy) Wilkinson wrote an article about the criminal arraignment of a Santa Monica developer, Abby Sher, in connection with events surrounding her Edgemar museum-restaurant complex on Main Street. (Times, Jan. 15.) On Jan. 29, you printed a letter from the museum director, Thomas Rhoads. Rhoads' letter attempted to "correct some factual errors" in the Wilkinson article, regarding the relationship between this developer, Edgemar and the museum.

Rhoads went to some length to draw a distinction between Sher's business dealings and the operations of the museum, objecting to Wilkinson's use of the term "private museum," and commenting that "in fact, the museum is a separate entity from Edgemar." However, Rhoads neglected to inform the readers of the following:

As late as Jan. 31, "Museum Director" Rhoads and "Founder/Vice President of SMMoA Board of Trustees" Sher shared the same business address (1333 Ocean Ave.), same mailbox slot, office space and staff (Janet Baetz).

The "fact sheet" Edgemar handed out to interested parties gave the same phone number to contact for "information regarding Edgemar/Santa Monica Museum of Art."

According to Sher at an open city meeting last spring, Rhoads is her employee under the terms of a personal-services employment contract.

As an aside, various Edgemar press releases and news articles have referred to the museum's "board of directors." Rhoads mentioned "nine trustees" in his letter. It is unclear whether the museum has both directors and trustees, and whether both or either make policy or merely offer advice.

Finally, the information above begs the question of whether the museum is truly independent from the developer, as Rhoads contends, or does one actually control the other?


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