City deal with LACMA to conserve Watts Towers hits snag over insurance


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The city’s bid to enlist the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as a key player in conserving the Watts Towers has hit a snag as LACMA seeks a guarantee that it won’t be held financially liable for any damage to the folk-art masterpiece that might result if its work on the towers were to go awry.

As a matter of policy, when LACMA takes on an art conservation project for an outside owner, it requires insurance or a legal guarantee relieving it of any financial responsibility for damage, Barbara Pflaumer, the museum’s spokeswoman, said Wednesday. Until now, she said, the city has asked that LACMA be “fully liable in the event of damage caused by our work” on the towers.


Olga Garay, who heads the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, said Wednesday that she’s hopeful of satisfying the museum’s requirement, possibly by bringing the Watts Towers under the insurance umbrella that already covers L.A.’s 2,000-work municipal art collection.

But such a deal, she said, would require the OK of both the state of California, which owns the towers and has contracted with the city to operate and maintain them until 2028, and the insurance carrier that provides up to $10 million or $13 million in coverage for L.A.’s art collection. The lesser amount applies only to earthquake damage.

“We’re willing to come up with an agreement [LACMA] can work with. I think we’re almost there,” said Saul Romo, the cultural affairs department’s assistant general manager, who has been involved in the negotiations. But he said the outcome depends on the city’s legal and insurance experts being able to nail down contract details that work for all the parties.

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-- Mike Boehm

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