Ranging from micro-aggressions to blatant instances of race- and gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment, cultural workers are speaking out against the culture inside modern museums. On a new Instagram account @ChangeTheMuseum, testimonies are sent via DM and posted anonymously to the page with the aims of “pressuring US museums to move beyond lip service proclamations.”
“A blog post title was changed because the white curator thought it ‘sounded too black power,’” reads one accusation.
“The Museum I work at is reinstalling out American Art galleries. Last year large signage was installed that showed a painting of an Indigenous person by a white artist with the accompanying text ‘we’re rethinking the ‘American’ in ‘American Art,’” says another.
These are only some of the testimonies posted on @ChangeTheMuseum, which seeks to amplify experiences of discrimination in cultural institutions.
The account’s founder, a New York City museum worker who prefers to remain anonymous, told Hyperallergic that the international anti-racism protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks prompted them to consider issues of racism in their own workplace.
“Through many conversations with colleagues across the US, it became apparent that museum administrations were not truly reflecting on their own roles in shaping toxic, racist working cultures and public spaces — there seemed to be a refusal to accept complicity, and, more telling, a palpable lack of urgency to develop strategies, goals, and timelines for combating instances of racism, severe inequity, and colonialism inherent in the collecting/art history narrative,” they said.
While the names of the senders remain undisclosed, some posts include identifying information about the alleged perpetrators or the name of the institution where the incident took place.
Hyperallergic did not independently verify the accuracy of the dozens of testimonies. However, several posts call out museums that have already been sharply reprimanded for perpetuating a culture of racism in recent months, such as SFMOMA, which was accused of censorship after deleting a comment by a Black former employee.
“At an SFMOMA all-staff meeting, the white senior curator was giving a presentation about a group of new acquisitions by POC artists. He ended the presentation by saying, ‘Don’t worry, we will definitely still continue to collect white artists,’” reads the post.
Another criticizes the chairman of the European paintings department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose social media post seemingly arguing for the preservation of controversial monuments was reported on by the New York Times.
One submission comes from someone saying they interned at the Whitney during the museum’s 2019 Biennial, when protests castigated former board vice chairman Warren Kanders over his role in the use of tear gas against civilians worldwide. The anonymous informer says the Whitney’s director “compared Kanders’s tear gas investments to young people buying fast fashion,” arguing that the interns “also engage in unethical decisions.” According to the post, many white employees continued to defend the director even after the interns expressed concern.
SFMOMA, the Met, and the Whitney have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s immediate requests for comment.
As Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations condemning state-sanctioned anti-Black violence continue, a lack of diversity in institutions’ staff and collections has been at the center of the cultural conversation. Museums have also been called out for being complicit in systemic racism or putting forth empty statements rather than undertaking actionable change.
“Many museums, including my employer, botched their public ‘reactions’ to the protests, turning to the timeworn, disingenuous strategies of tokenism, ‘let’s stay quiet,’ and/or stating the (minimal) things done in the past 5-10 years to create welcoming cultural spaces,” @ChangeTheMuseum’s founder told Hyperallergic.
@ChangeTheMuseum was in part inspired by another account, @_fortheculture2020, self-described as “a coalition of current and former BIPOC employees and allies” committed to calling out system racism in cultural institutions. Both projects are similar to other collaborative, anonymous platforms that have sprouted in recent years to amplify the voices of people marginalized in the cultural sphere, especially those who could face retaliation if they were identified. In 2018, the Instagram account Scene and Herd was launched so women in India could share instances of sexual harassment in the country’s art world. Last year, a Google spreadsheet anonymously documenting salary disparities at museums exposed the economic inequalities at work in major institutions.
@ChangeTheMuseum was launched on June 16 and has nearly 4,000 followers. Its creator says they have posted 63 of the 100 stories shared anonymously so far, with more testimonies coming in daily. Reading through these experiences, @ChangeTheMuseum’s founder said that two things quickly became clear: museum’s human resources departments “don’t protect individuals, they protect the institutions they serve,” and predominantly white boards “are the true rulers of our public institutions.”