After racism claims, Boston museum creates diversity fund

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After racism claims, Boston museum creates diversity fund
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's Art of the Americas Wing exterior view. Photo: © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

by Jenny Gross

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston said Tuesday that it would establish a $500,000 fund devoted to diversity initiatives, a move that comes a year after a group of black middle school students said they had been subjected to racist comments while on a field trip there.

The museum also said that as part of an agreement with the state, it would do more to engage with and support local communities, artists and young people of color, according to Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general.

“Our cultural institutions play an important role in fostering and providing an inclusive environment for communities and people of all backgrounds,” Healey said. “Today’s agreement affirms the experiences of students and teachers from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy and lifts up their voices and the voices of local communities of color to help shape change and greater understanding.”

During the field trip, one museum employee was accused of telling students from the Davis Academy, “No food, no drink and no watermelon.” After an investigation, the museum said it could not verify the allegations. It said an employee recalled telling the students that “no food, no drink and no water bottles” were allowed in the galleries.

The black students felt they had been singled out by security guards who paid no attention to white students, The Boston Globe reported at the time. One patron at the museum told a female student that she should pay attention so she would not have to become a stripper, the newspaper reported, citing Arturo Forrest, the school’s principal.

Before leaving, students and chaperones from the school filed a complaint with the museum’s visitor services office about the racism and verbal abuse they said they had experienced, according to the museum.

Matthew Teitelbaum, the museum director, said that the museum had learned a lot over the past year and through the agreement with the attorney general. After the episode last May, he apologized for the “unacceptable experiences” that the students encountered during their visit.

“There’s nothing more important to us than making sure everyone feels welcome at the MFA,” Teitelbaum said in a statement Tuesday. “Whether you walk through the doors of the museum every day, every week, once a year, or just once, everyone is welcome at the MFA.”

The Museum of Fine Arts conducts training for employees and volunteers on unconscious bias and, in response to the episode, has created a new position of senior director of belonging and inclusion. The museum will also implement an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, according to Healey’s statement.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group that fights discrimination through legal action and advocacy, said the group was grateful to the attorney general for championing civil rights issues.

“This agreement creates a unique blueprint for community engagement and dialogue about the importance of diversity, inclusion, and cultural competency in all cultural and public institutions so that they better reflect and respect the diverse populations they serve,” he said in a statement.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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