Jul 9, 2020
News

Amid accusations of racism and sexism, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s director was placed on leave.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. Photo by Michael Barera, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. Photo by Michael Barera, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s (MOCAD) executive director, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, has been temporarily removed from her position after more than 70 former employees signed a letter claiming the former director “created a toxic environment which has isolated current and former staff members and has left MOCAD’s reputation in the local community hanging on by a thread.” Borowy-Reeder has held this position since 2013.
The open letter continues, saying:
We experienced and witnessed various racist micro-aggressions, mis-gendering, violent verbal outbursts, misrepresentation of community partnerships, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff by the Executive Director. While we understand this position is challenging, we insist that no circumstance warrants any of the above behavior. Our complaints went unchecked and ignored, while our jobs and the careers of our colleagues were threatened. A number of us were publicly berated, manipulated and gas-lit when advocating for our programs, artists, transparency in grant-based funding, staff, teams and positions. Often we would face retaliation for complaints by hours being cut or added without adequate compensation, verbal bullying, and hyper micro-management. The Executive Director’s behavior caused extreme trauma and mental anguish that many of us are still recovering from.
In an email to the museum staff which was then obtained by ARTnews, MOCAD board chair Elyse Foltyn said Borowy-Reeder was placed on leave in light of “allegations of poor management and racial and gender bias (including harassment and bullying) from current and former employees.” The email added that an independent investigation into Borowy-Reeder is being conducted, and a hotline has been established to source further information.
An exhibition by the artist collective New Red Order was slated to open this week, but the group has asked that their show be postponed until the board of directors commit to meeting the demands outlined in the open letter.