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Bowers to Rehire Its Director

Arts Trustees of Santa Ana museum vote to renew Peter C. Keller's contract despite apparent ethics violations.


Trustees of the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana have voted to rehire Peter C. Keller as executive director for another five years, despite Keller's apparent violation of codes of ethics governing museums.

"We have not uncovered anything that I would characterize as anything other than innocent technical violations of these rules," board chairman Lowell C. Martindale said Tuesday.

Ethical codes established by the American Assn. of Museums, a national accreditation organization, forbid museum staff members or trustees to personally benefit from their association with the institutions they serve.


A recent investigation by Santa Ana city officials found that Keller had bought "a few things" for himself while on museum acquisition trips in Africa and elsewhere and had saved himself money by shipping the objects back to the U.S. along with the museum goods, Martindale said.

"But there was no indication that he was buying anything of value [over a few hundred dollars] or that he was doing it on a regular basis," Martindale said. Keller was not buying any items under the nonprofit museum's tax-exempt status, he said.

Of greater concern was the practice--now ended--by Keller and other trustees of selling items from their own collections on consignment through the museum store and keeping half the proceeds, Martindale said. He added that an ongoing internal investigation of the ethical issues has been "slightly hindered" because Keller is on vacation in New Guinea.

Keller's contract renewal comes in the wake of money troubles at the museum. Last month, the Santa Ana City Council voted to continue funding the Bowers at the current level of $1.2 million annually for five years. A previous agreement would have reduced the city funding.

Martindale expressed confidence in Keller's financial management, adding that Vickie C. Byrd, hired last month in the newly created position of chief administrative officer, will oversee day-to-day operations so that Keller can spend more time cultivating donors and organizing exhibits.

Keller's rehiring did not require a full board vote, Martindale said, but members of the museum board's executive and personnel committees voted unanimously to renew his contract.

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