Art Market

Following uproar from current and former staff, SFMOMA released a plan to improve diversity and equity.

Daria Simone Harper
Jul 17, 2020 4:41PM, via The Art Newspaper

SFMOMA. Photo by Alan Morris, via Flickr.

Following several weeks of uproar over the way the museum has dealt with accusations of racism from former employees—during which five senior staffers have resigned—the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced a new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan that is to be completed by December.

The museum has faced backlash since May 30th, when it posted Glenn Ligon’s artwork We’re Black and Strong (I) (1996) on its Instagram account in response to national protests against police brutality and the police killing of George Floyd. A former Black woman staff member, Taylor Brandon, called the post insincere and criticized museum leaders for perpetuating racism, but her comment was swiftly deleted. This action led some organizations—like No Neutral Alliance (NNA) and xSFMOMA—to demand that the institution reassess its hiring, collecting, and programming, as well as for museum director Neal Benezra to resign. Benezra has since made a public apology, which additionally received a great deal of criticism.

The decision to create a DEI plan came after several internal meetings, sometimes including the entire museum staff. A statement released on SFMOMA’s website acknowledges “longstanding inequities at the museum,” before detailing the changes being made to increase equity. This summer, the institution is employing interns in art history and curatorial studies from a consortium of historically Black colleges. Additionally, SFMOMA will hire a Director of Employee Experience and Internal Communication and a Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. It will also begin “anti-racist and implicit bias training” for all staff members.

Since late May, five senior staffers have left or decided to depart soon—including, most recently, SFMOMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, Gary Garrels. Garrels was called out by current staff members for making what they saw as racist remarks. Following a presentation about acquiring works by artists of color and women, he reportedly said: “Don’t worry, we will definitely still continue to collect white artists.” In a recent staff meeting, he added that avoiding the collection of works by white men would be “reverse discrimination.” Last week, Garrels apologized for his remarks and resigned; he is now due to leave the institution on July 31st.

Among other high-level officials set to leave the institution are Nan Keeton, the deputy director in charge of external relations; Marisa Robisch, the director of human resources; Cindi Hubbard, recruitment and staffing manager; and Ann von Germeten, chief marketing and communications officer.

Further Reading: Pushed to Address Systemic Racism, Museums Face a Reckoning

Daria Simone Harper
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019