Smithsonian National Museum of African Art accused of ‘culture of racism’ by former staffers
Ten former staffers and members of the board at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., have alleged a ‘culture of racism’ at the institution dating back years. Writing in a letter to Smithsonian secretary (the Institution’s first black head, and former director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture) Lonnie Bunch III, they detail a ‘toxic’ workplace with incidents including ‘racial bias, hostile verbal attacks, retaliation, terminations, microaggressions and degrading comments.’
A former employee claimed that just five out of 40 full-time staffers at the museum before they departed were black – and that there had been no black curators for more than 10 years. The signatories have called for the resignation of deputy director and chief curator Christine Mullen Kreamer, who they say has had ‘multiple complaints’ filed concerning racism and mismanagement – they allege that Kreamer favoured white employees in hiring decisions and displayed ‘consistent bullying and hostility’ towards black employees who challenged her.
A former black curator and director at the museum, Gus Casely-Hayford, was singled out in the letter for allegedly taking little action to improve the situation. He is currently director of V&A East, London, and recently wrote about racial inequality in the artworld. ‘This situation became particularly distressing under Gus Casely-Hayford, resulting in negative impacts on Black staff, as well as NMAfA’s reputation within the broader community,’ the signatories wrote.
‘Recent events have brought deeper attention to systemic racism within museums across our country. In this spirit, we write to you to express our outrage about the current state of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art,’ they write. ‘Our goal is to collectively express our concerns and to engage in building an equitable and inclusive museum for our community.’ The letter calls for a series of improvements: a pay equity plan for Black employees, a review of job losses and racially driven incidents, and a commitment to improve career advancement of black employees.
Bunch has pledged to investigate the complaints, telling the New York Times: ‘There is no room for racism at the Smithsonian. Too many times, I was the only Black person in the room and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore.’