DIA supporters gathered in the museum’s Beverly J. Prentis Court to watch results in the March 10, 2020 election, when voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties were deciding on a 10-year, 0.2-mill renewal to support the DIA. (Photo: Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press)
Seven members of the board of directors at the Detroit Institute of Arts have resigned amid an ongoing controversy over workplace culture.
In an email to staff, Eugene Gargaro, the board’s chair, noted that the board members “disagreed with the majority of the Executive Committee” regarding how to address allegations of a toxic workplace at the museum.
The departures came at a Friday meeting of the executive committee. Board members Anne Fredericks, Mary Ann Gorlin, Julie Rothstein, Suzanne Shank, Carol Walters and Celeste Watkins-Hayes resigned along with emeritus director Marc Schwartz.
Allegations of workplace turbulence at the DIA surfaced last summer in a change.org petition circulated by current and former DIA staff. The museum hired independent law firm Crowell & Moring to investigate the claims, and in November, investigators reported their findings to the board in a confidential meeting. The meeting was recorded and leaked to a whistleblower organization in early March.
In the recording, investigators said that employees face a culture of fear and retaliation and that DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons has “a lack of facility with race-related issues.” They also reported that female employees felt the director had treated them “less favorably than their male peers on the compensation front.”
As a result of those findings, the DIA established a confidential hotline for employees to report issues, appointed a liaison to provide a direct link between staff members and the board and and put in place a performance plan for Salort-Pons.
Gargaro wrote in his email to staff that since the leak earlier this month, the DIA’s executive committee has met twice “to develop a consensus on a fair and reasoned process for the board to identify and recommend solutions to the serious issues we are currently facing.”
The DIA board is made up of 54 elected board members, 32 emeritus members and 44 honorary members.
On Monday afternoon, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans weighed in on the board members’ resignations.
“I commend the members of the Detroit Institute of Arts Board of Directors who resigned today for taking a principled stand against workplace harassment and insular management styles. … These board resignations raise serious questions of confidence in the current executive leadership,” Evans said in a statement.
“I have long said that the DIA and its leadership must do more to be connected to and representative of the region it serves and the city it calls home, especially through increased and direct outreach to African Americans and other communities of color,” he continued.
“The residents of Detroit and Wayne County voted to support the DIA millage, in part, because the museum’s leadership and board members made assurances it would work harder and more diligently to address issues of equity and inclusion. To be clear: Those assurances remain unmet.”
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