MFA Addresses Recent Incident of Racism
An Open Letter from Director Matthew Teitelbaum
By: MFA - Jun 03, 2019
Dear MFA Community,
Throughout the past week, the MFA has implemented some immediate action steps in response to the recent incidents involving students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy. We are actively examining our visitor services protocols, have added staffing, revised our welcome messaging, and are expanding training. We understand that our work is far from done and that we have a long way to go.
We at the MFA believe that art can bridge differences and celebrate commonalities. We are committed to being an institution of inclusion, reciprocity and accountability. We know that you expect better of us, and we do as well.
We have created this space to give you more detailed updates and to communicate with us.
Ann and Graham Gund Director
Re: Davis Leadership Academy Visit
A group of 26 middle-school students with chaperones from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy visited the MFA on May 16, 2019. They were on a self-guided visit. Before leaving the Museum, the group filed a complaint with Member and Visitor Services that they were met with racism and verbal abuse from visitors and staff during the visit.
Upon learning of the class’s experience, we immediately contacted school officials to apologize. At the same time, we began conducting a thorough investigation to review what happened and determine consequences. You can read the report here.
When we launched our Strategic Plan, MFA 2020 in 2017, we focused on new audiences and our invitation, welcome and engagement. New initiatives—like MFA Late Nites and City Talks—activated those ideas while also building upon the long-standing community and educational programs that have been the focus of our work for decades. In this moment, in today’s Boston, we have heard from our young visitors that we have let them down on the fulfillment of our key promises: a bold invitation, a warm welcome, and deep engagement.
We believe that to create a truly inviting and welcoming museum we must be empathetic to visitors’ experiences and understand what they bring to the institution. Everyone at the MFA wants the Museum to belong to all of Boston. We know that we have work to do to achieve that goal, and we are committed to doing so.
We will continue to address these fundamental issues as an institution, both with immediate steps and long-term commitments.
Immediate Next Steps: May 31, 2019
- In response to the specific harassment of the Davis Leadership Academy group on May 16, we have taken immediate action by barring two visitors from the Museum.
- We have added staff to the school groups entrance to improve our welcome and changed our orientation greeting.
- We are increasing staffing in the galleries by adding visitor services positions and increasing hours for existing representatives. These staff members will be able to assist visitors throughout their visit and respond to any incidents while the guards continue their security function.
- We are in active conversations this week with our local government officials about race and Boston’s cultural institutions.
- We’ve been in regular contact with the staff at the Davis Leadership Academy and have another meeting scheduled with them on Monday. We have regularly requested another meeting with the students and are respecting their lead on the timing.
- With the help of outside experts, we are expediting and evolving our ongoing mandatory training program for all staff.
- In early May, we announced seven sessions of unconscious bias training that will take place throughout June and July. The Leadership Team and Board members on the Governance & Nominating and Executive Committees completed this training in January.?
- Also in early May, we announced that two sessions on conflict resolution will take place in June. The workshop will allow staff participants to develop skills for resolving various conflicts that come up in the workplace.
- We are reviewing all visitor touchpoints to improve every visitor’s experience, from entry to exit.
- Externally, our department of Learning and Community Engagement, headed by Makeeba McCreary, has organized a series of roundtables on inclusion and racial diversity at the MFA. The first one took place in May, with academic administrators, faculty and students. Upcoming sessions will engage artists of color; K-12 school leaders, administrators and teachers; non-profit and community partners; and professionals in creative industries.
- The Museum is committed to City Talks, a series launched in 2016 to engage leading Boston-area thinkers, institutions, entrepreneurs, activists, and artists in free public forums on prevalent themes within current exhibitions that impact our community culturally, socially, and politically. Recent panels have discussed representation, opioids, monuments, bodies and expression, and narratives of resistance.
- We will continue to be intentional in recruitment processes that build and support a diverse complement of staff, volunteers and governance, to reflect and best serve the City of Boston and the values of our Museum.
We invite you to continue to hold our institution accountable and welcome you to share your questions, concerns, and suggestions by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our commitment to being a safe space for all extends to our communications. Please note that any e-mails containing expletives or abusive language will be deleted.
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