On Wednesday (May 22) Boston’s Museum of Fine Art published an open letter to apologise for a racist incident that victimised students on a school trip. A class from the Helen Y Davis Leadership Academy experienced “a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome”, read the letter from the MFA Leadership Team.
Since then, the museum has conducted an investigation into the incident, reviewing video footage and conducting interviews to determine what happened, and has outlined the steps it will take to prevent anything similar happening in the future.
Two museum attendees were implicated by the investigation, for using “offensive and inappropriate language when they came into contact with the students”. (Seriously, who’s got it out for students trying to learn about art?) They will have their memberships revoked and will additionally be served no-trespass cease-and-desist letters banning them from the MFA.
The museum staff – who the students reported told them “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were allowed in the museum – were pretty much let off the hook, though, with the MFA stating: “there is no way to definitively confirm or deny what was said or heard in the galleries.”
Other claims that the students were being followed by security guards were put down to shift changes.
The Museum of Fine Art has said, though, that it will be updating all staff protocols to reflect what happened and will make a stronger effort to inform visitors of expectations as well (because apparently some people need a reminder that being racist is a bad thing).
Given that galleries are typically pretty liberal and should be considered a safe place for all, some might still be disappointed that these changes weren’t considered sooner, especially since ARTnews reports that a similar thing occurred at the MFA Boston just weeks earlier.
As Matthew Teitelbaum, the MFA’s director, says himself in a statement: “These young people left the museum feeling disrespected, harassed and targeted because of the color of their skin, and that is unacceptable.”