A year ago, disparaging comments were made to a group middle-school aged, minority students while on a field trip to the Museum of Fine Art (MFA) in Boston. In the time since the incident, the MFA has faced much backlash and been the focus of an investigation into the alleged remarks. They have also instilled institutional changes to improve the rhetoric of the museum for visitors and employees, seeking to make the MFA an environment inviting to all. Regarding these changes, the MFA has unveiled a new $500,000 (£410,550) diversity and inclusion fund that is part of an agreement reached between them and the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
Through the initiative, the MFA will work with and support artists and youth of colour in the museum’s community. The agreement was arranged by the AG’s office as part of the AG’s investigation into the 2019 event and is the first of its kind. While the agreement acknowledges that, both before and after the incident, the MFA had “already undertaken efforts” to make the museum a more diverse and welcoming place to its community, the agreement requires that the MFA commit to:
- Ongoing collaboration with the participants from the field trip and their school to achieve an inclusive environment.
- External consultation to assess the “broader culture and climate” of the museum.
- Creating biannual reports alongside the external consultant on progress made by the MRA. These reports will be made available to the public.
- Improving MFA policy and procedures concerning anti-discrimination and anti-harassment towards staff, volunteers, and visitors.
- Improving training and implement unconscious bias training for MFA staff and volunteers of all levels.
“Our cultural institutions play an important role in fostering and providing an inclusive environment for communities and people of all backgrounds,” said Healey in a statement on May 5th. “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. This agreement lays out processes which can serve as a model for cultural institutions in our ongoing collective work to build diversity and inclusivity in Boston and well beyond.”
This initiative is rooted in the events of May 16, 2019, when a class of 30 students, all of whom are black or Latinx, from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy experienced racist abuse while on a field trip to the MFA. Their teacher, Marvelyne Lamy, was forced to cut the field trip short after the students were subject to a number of racially-based events, including a museum employee reportedly telling students: “No food, no drink, and no watermelon.” Additionally, Lamy stated online that the students were followed through the museum, intimidated by security, and received derogatory comments from museum visitors. Lamy reported the events to MFA staff. While the museum initially only offered free tickets to the students without an apology, the museum released an official statement and apology a week later and banned the staff responsible for the comments from the museum. Afterwards, an investigation into the events was launched by the Massachusetts AG.
“We have learned a great deal during the past year and through this process, and while we have more to learn and more work to do, together we will succeed,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the MFA. “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”