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April 20, 2010

The Watchdog Growls

On Friday in the Los Angeles Times, Mike Boehm reported more fallout from the cash crisis that recently imperiled that city's Museum of Contemporary Art: damning findings by the state and an embarrassing official slap.

The California Attorney General's office determined that the Museum of Contemporary Art skirted state law for years enroute to financial meltdown in late 2008 and ordered the museum to hire a consultant to help improve its financial management. The attorney general also required MOCA board members to receive special training in their fiduciary duties.

The findings and "required corrective actions" were included in a two-page letter to MOCA last November. The attorney general's office provided it to The Times this week after repeated inquiries.

Now comes news in The New York Times that the little-known, publicly funded New York State Theatre Institute "is rife with corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and possibly illegal conduct, according to a scathing report released on Tuesday by the state inspector general's office."

The report alleges that the artistic director, Patricia Snyder, treated the group as a personal fiefdom, routinely doling out acting roles, directing jobs, production work and other benefits to herself and her family members. Ms. Snyder steered a total of more than $700,000 in payments to her husband, her two sons, her two daughters-in-law and to herself, the report said.

Danny Hakim's story mentions that the report comes "four years after a New York Times article" -- his own -- "detailed nepotism and questionable spending practices by the institute."

Note those "repeated inquiries" Boehm made, and his aggressive reporting on the museum's crisis at the time. Note that long-ago Hakim story, the result of a careful examination of the theater's own records.

Boehm is an arts reporter, one of a diminishing number on staff at newspapers. Hakim covers Albany, not the arts, at least not usually; in this case, the two intersect. In arts journalism, we have a little habit of forgetting to include hard news in the definition of what we do. But it's one of the most important aspects of our coverage. It's also time-consuming, expensive, and therefore endangered. As these stories illustrate, killing the watchdog is a dangerous thing to do.

April 20, 2010 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)

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