MOCAD fires the director; The DIA group makes a new request
As the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and the Detroit Institute of Arts grapple with scandals involving their directors, the crisis of the former, at least, has come to a head.
MOCAD’s board on Wednesday sacked executive director Elysia Borowy-Reeder, following accusations earlier this month by more than 70 former employees and interns of abuse and racial harassment.
The move takes place on the same day that the DIA Staff Action Group called for Salvador Salort-Pons to be removed from his post as museum director.
Borowy-Reeder was put on paid leave on July 8, pending a report from a three-person council committee that has looked into the charges.
Elyse Foltyn, chairman of the board, said in a statement that the decision to remove Borowy-Reeder “is a painful step but the first of a decent course for MOCAD. We have tried to ensure diversity, the equity and inclusion since our inception. However, it is clear that we need to do more, better and faster. “
In an email to the board on July 3, a group calling themselves MOCAD Resistance accused Borowy-Reeder of creating “a toxic work environment” characterized by “various racist micro-attacks, gender errors , explosions of violence … and a tokenization of marginalized artists. “
The group also posted a screenshot of a 2014 email in which a local architect wrote to the board to express concern that Borowy-Reeder, who grew up in Hamtramck, complained about the influx of African Americans claiming they had driven out the Poles.
In one statement sent to The Detroit News, Borowy-Reeder, who arrived at MOCAD in 2013, wrote that she regretted having had to learn of her dismissal via a press release, “after an investigation with which I disagree and for which I have not been interviewed. “
She also alleged that despite her efforts to diversify her board of directors for a museum in an 80% black city, “only six of the 35 members are people of color.”
Borowy-Reeder reaffirmed her commitment to racial inclusion and said she takes workplace allegations to heart “and deeply regrets any harm I have caused”.
Supporters of the MOCAD resistance applauded the council’s decision to fire her.
“I am delighted to see that they have investigated and got to the root of the issues with Elysia,” said Katie G. McGowan, who joined MOCAD in 2011 and resigned in 2014 as education curator and public engagement after working with Borowy-Reeder for nine months.
“This is a really positive first step, but it is only one of the steps set out by MOCAD Resistance,” she said, who also called for restructuring the board of directors to add an employee representative. and members of economically and racially marginalized groups.
McGowan, who is now managing director of Kresge Arts in Detroit, said she was aware of a number of Borowy-Reeder’s biased remarks: “I can list and list the racist things she said.”
Finally, she added, “I left because I felt helpless. I felt like I was getting sick because all I was doing was fighting. I was literally fighting Elysia every week. I didn’t. was not prepared to be subjected to this kind of abuse. “
In an interview with The Detroit News, board chairman Foltyn said only a very small number of board members saw the 2014 email citing Borowy-Reeder’s remarks on the demographic shift at Hamtramck.
The email was not shared with other board members, she said, although the recipient spoke to Borowy-Reeder about the accusations.
“I can tell you that most of my board members and I knew nothing about these issues,” she said, “until we read the allegations of resistance from MOCAD in line July 3 “.
Foltyn added that the board is looking very carefully at requests for resistance, as well as suggestions from other quarterbacks.
“A lot of their requests are things we want to do,” she said. “We will review theirs and others we have obtained, and decide what is best to position MOCAD as a community leader and agent of change in Detroit and the art world.”
The search for a new executive director will begin shortly, Foltyn said.
“But for now,” she added, “we are fortunate to have skilled, dedicated and long-term employees who can fill the void. Despite the recent turmoil,” she added, “The employees and former employees are remarkably committed to MOCAD. They said they wanted to be part of the rebuilding process. It is truly rewarding.”
MOCAD, of course, is just one of two arts institutions in Detroit reeling these days. Since DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons is also under attack, it’s tempting to equate this case with MOCAD, but they are somewhat different, both in subject matter and in severity.
A splinter group of current and former employees – DIA Staff Action – accused manager Salort-Pons, who held the post for five years, of creating a “hostile work environment” – as did Borowy-Reeder’s was by MOCAD Resistance.
The allegations against Salort-Pons center on what some call cultural insensitivity and a style of government that has despised or ignored employees of color.
Borowy-Reeder, on the other hand, was accused of outright abuse of staff and making statements that seemed much sharper than those attributed to Salort-Pons.
In addition, the problems at MOCAD revolve mainly around the treatment of staff. In contrast, Salort-Pons was also attacked for failing to follow proper procedures in accepting a loan of an El Greco painting from his stepfather.
Salort-Pons denies the accusations.
Adding to the rush of news in the Detroit art world on Wednesday, DIA Staff Action released an expanded list of their own requests.
The group had already requested that Salort-Pons be removed from his post as director before August 31.
In their publication on change.org, Staff Action also called for a new employee engagement survey to be conducted and released to all employees, as well as an investigation into “ the multiple accusations of lack of leadership, hostility at work, racism , sexism and sexual harassment over the past five years. “
They also called for an investigation into “the allegations of misconduct and potential abuse of power” by Salort-Pons and DIA board chairman Eugene A. Gargaro Jr., and an explanation of the how the Washington, DC law firm set out to review alleged ethics violations regarding the El Greco loan were selected.
Finally, the “request for immediate action” demanded that the museum management and the board of directors agree to a permanent dialogue with the members of DIA Staff Action.
In response, the museum said in a statement prepared by Salort-Pons and Gargaro that they did not learn of the petition until Wednesday evening after seeing it in a report, and would examine it for an answer. appropriate.
“As we have already communicated,” the statement added, “we will listen to contributions from current and former employees, as well as independent experts, to inform decision-making, particularly in priority areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and access. “