LOS ANGELES — On Wednesday, an open letter to the Getty Board of Trustees was posted online, criticizing the institution for a history of racial bias and insensitivity and for its lukewarm response after the murder of George Floyd.
“Racism abounds, from insensitive comments made by management and frequent microaggressions experienced by staff and visitors of color to collecting practices and exhibition programs that glorify the work of white heterosexual cisgender male artists to the exclusion of others,” the letter states. It was signed by 167 current staff members of the Getty Museum, the Getty Trust, and the Getty Research Institute, as well as over 100 former staff members and visitors.
This is just the latest in a series of open letters that have been circulating throughout the museum world, exposing a culture of racism and inequity that has long plagued the inner working of some of the nation’s most esteemed cultural institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit.
The Getty letter goes on to mention
a the museum’s newly organized DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) council and task forces, noting that they have been hamstrung by limited budgets, and members who are stretched thin between their museum positions and new roles, “which sends the message that DEI is nonessential.” It also lambastes the institution for not confidently and publicly stating that “Black Lives Matter,” a glaring oversight which Jim Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, apologized in early June following backlash.
“The letter is based on our collective experiences, a cultural climate survey done last year, and recent group discussions, especially following uprisings over George Floyd’s death, the Getty’s half-hearted response, and a very upsetting All Staff meeting on June 16th,” a current staff member who wished to remain anonymous told Hyperallergic.
The June 16th meeting they refer to was billed as a “town hall,” according to another staff member who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. When they logged onto the Zoom call led by Cuno and other museum executives, however, they say they faced a hierarchical set up that paralleled the Getty’s corporate structure. “We were surprised to discover that we were all muted and that we couldn’t send questions via chat,” they told Hyperallergic. “It was like, ‘you will all quietly listen.’”
When asked for comment, a Getty spokesperson provided the following statement to Hyperallergic:
Getty’s Board and Senior Leadership are committed to immediately addressing priority issues, including building a diverse workforce, confronting and eliminating racism in the workplace, deepening our engagement with communities of color in the work we do, and expanding the diversity of perspectives and narratives brought to the work of all four Getty programs. We have said there is much work to do, and we must move forward with urgency in accomplishing it, along with our dedicated, talented, and deeply caring staff and our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and Task Forces.
The letter concludes by imploring the board to “set actionable, measurable goals to increase diversity and repudiate racism at Getty,” requesting a response within one week.