The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston has banned two visitors and revoked their memberships—and will revise its internal procedures for staff, volunteers, and guards—after a visiting school group recently complained that students of color were subjected to racist remarks by staff and relentless security scrutiny during its visit.
An instructor serving as a chaperone for a group of 26 students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy that visited the MFA Boston on May 13th was told that a museum staff member had told the students that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were permitted inside the institution. Corlaya Brown, a 13-year-old student who was part of the visiting group, told the Boston Globe: “I didn’t feel comfortable. [. . .] I didn’t feel safe. I felt disrespected. I felt angry.”
The museum claimed employees greeting groups routinely say “no food, no drink and no water bottles,” suggesting students may have misheard the end of the announcement. The MFA added that “there is no way to definitively confirm or deny what was said or heard in the galleries,” according to ARTnews. Upon reviewing surveillance footage and conducting an internal investigation, the museum concluded that security staff going on and off breaks may have given students the impression they were being excessively scrutinized. Following the investigation, the MFA Boston banned and revoked the memberships of two museum visitors who “used offensive and inappropriate language when they came into contact with the students.”
In a statement quoted by ARTnews, the MFA’s director Matthew Teitelbaum said:
These young people left the museum feeling disrespected, harassed and targeted because of the color of their skin, and that is unacceptable. This is a fundamental problem that we will address as an institution, both with immediate steps and longterm commitments. I am deeply saddened that we’ve taken something away from these students that will be hard to get back.
However, according to a former MFA employee who spoke anonymously to the Globe, this month’s incident is not surprising. “It’s been that way for years,” she told the paper.