MOCAD board fires director accused of racism

The board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has fired Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder, who’d been placed on paid leave July 8 following charges by 70 former staffers and interns of abusive treatment and racial harassment.

In a statement, Elyse Foltyn, board chair, said the decision to remove Borowy-Reeder “is a painful but first step of a course correct for MOCAD. We have tried to deliver on diversity, equity and inclusion since our inception. However, it is clear we need to do more, better and faster.”

A group calling itself MOCAD Resistance emailed the MOCAD board July 3, accusing Borowy-Reeder of creating “a toxic work environment” characterized by “various racist micro-aggressions, mid-gendering, violent outbursts … and tokenization of marginalized artists.”

The group also posted a screen grab of a 2014 email in which a local architect wrote the board to express her concern that Borowy-Reeder, who grew up in Hamtramck, complained about the influx of African-Americans, and said they drove the Poles out.

Borowy-Reeder came to MOCAD in 2013 from the Conteporary art Museum of Raleigh, North Carolina, where she was founding director.

“I can list and list the racist things she said,” said Katie McGowan, who joined MOCAD in 2011, and resigned a year later as curator of education and public engagement after working with Borowy-Reeder for nine months.

“I left because I felt powerless,” McGowan said. “I felt like I was getting sick because all I did was fight. I was literally fighting with Elysia every week. I wasn’t willing to take that kind of abuse.”

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