Letter to the Board

To William L. Mack, Chair of the Board, Wendy Fisher, President, and members of the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York:

We, the signatories, representing current and former staff members of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, urge you to work with us to dismantle the systemic racism in our institution. We dissent from the public statements made by Richard Armstrong on June 7, and June 9, 2020, which have exacerbated the problem that we seek to rectify. The museum cannot call for “forgiveness” for its “missteps” without publicly and explicitly addressing its wrongdoings and making amends. Black Lives Matter. Armstrong’s failure to mention and honor that fact in these statements was an inexcusable omission. Senior leadership has repeatedly failed to demonstrate a sincere commitment to addressing an internal white dominant culture that has long created hostility for Black staff members and staff members of color. For years, staff have been met with platitudes about how change takes time. The future of museums is precarious and requires leadership that is fully dedicated to creating an equitable work environment and contending with and rectifying an exhibition history and collecting practice that has ignored the contributions of Black and Brown artists. The most visible egregious act of anti-Black violence in the museum’s recent history was the disrespectful and publicly hostile treatment of Chaédria LaBouvier, the first Black curator to mount an exhibition at the Guggenheim in its 80-year history. We are able to write this letter now due to her publicly sounding the alarm on a culture of institutional racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and retaliatory white supremacy, a burden and risk that should never have been hers to bear, and one she carried alone.

LaBouvier’s landmark 2019 exhibition, Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story, was critically acclaimed and immensely popular, attracting a diverse visitorship the Guggenheim seldom sees. Her curation and foundational scholarship has permanently influenced the way the museum and art world at large engage with themes of art and protest and political iconography, as well as the study of art of 1980s New York City. Yet, its success, scope, and impact have never been fully acknowledged or celebrated by the museum. Instead, LaBouvier encountered institutional racism in a multitude of forms leading up to, during, and following the exhibition’s run, ranging from exclusion from key aspects of exhibition planning to the spread of derogatory rumors among the staff by leadership. We apologize for our silence while this occurred, through which we became complicit in the harm inflicted on her by the institution. We were immobilized by paralyzing fear due to the culture of intimidation. We are now pursuing the betterment of this institution owing to LaBouvier’s courage and resistance from the beginning of her term until the present moment, and that is a debt that cannot be repaid and should not be erased.

LaBouvier’s experience was singular in its extremity and cruelty, but not isolated; it is one of countless examples of an aggressively pervasive problem. The Guggenheim’s Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion initiative has proven inadequate in addressing the deep-seated inequities and mistreatment experienced by many staff members, and perpetrated at all levels, from frontline staff to the executive cabinet. The failure to create a diverse and equitable workplace has resulted in a museum culture that refuses to take accountability for the violence and injustice inflicted upon its BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) constituents.

We stand in solidarity with the statement authored by our colleagues in the Curatorial department dated June 22, 2020 and support their call for equitable hiring practices, a significant financial commitment to diversifying the museum’s collection, exhibitions, and educational programming, and an independent investigation into the allegations surrounding Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story. We must also acknowledge that they issued a letter that did not represent the needs of staff throughout the museum, including our collective agreement to acknowledge LaBouvier’s experience and that this moment would not be possible without the monumental risks and labor she undertook. This demonstrates a hierarchical conflict and institutional erasure that cannot exist in an equitable workplace. Likewise, we recognize that these efforts have occurred to a great extent without the presence of furloughed staff, who constitute the majority of the museum’s BIPOC employees, also emblematic of this institutional erasure and violence. We strive to move forward united in our effort, as described in the Curatorial department’s statement, “to formulate long-term goals to address systemic racism and other forms of discrimination and abuse.” To this end, we also stand firmly with our unionized colleagues in their ongoing fight for a fair contract, which is inextricable from any discussion about workplace equity and should have been affirmed and supported long before now.

The Guggenheim cannot claim to be a leading arts institution without first atoning for its wrongdoings and committing to concrete action and change. We therefore call for the museum to undertake the following actions:

WITHIN THE NEXT MONTH:

  • Immediately commission an independent investigation and publicly report on the development, data, implementation, and aftermath of the Basquiat project.
  • Commission an additional independent review, the results of which will be published on the museum’s website, of the “missteps made in our own eighty-year history” referred to by Richard Armstrong in his public letter dated June 9, 2020.
  • Engage, listen to, and compensate any BIPOC consultants, scholars, staff, and students who offer guidance to undertake anti-racist work.
  • Formulate and publish a plan to recruit BIPOC board members.
  • Commit to providing annual reports to staff that show demonstrable changes to hiring and collecting practices.
  • Meet with a staff council representing voices from across departments and permit at least one elected member to attend executive cabinet and board meetings.
  • Enact a policy of zero tolerance for racist comments and actions.
  • Terminate any and all contracts and agreements with the NYPD.

WITHIN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS:

  • Take accountability for the results of the independent investigation of the Basquiat project and commit to restorative justice on terms set by LaBouvier.
  • Replace those members of the executive cabinet who have repeatedly proven that they are not committed to decisive, anti-racist action and do not act in good faith with BIPOC leaders.
  • Meet with signatories of this letter to discuss sustainable, long-term action that prioritizes equity, access, and inclusion as much as it does diversity.
  • Overhaul the whistleblower system to ensure that BIPOC staff can safely and anonymously report discrimination without retaliation; conduct a comprehensive review of past complaints and censure repeat offenders.
  • Hire BIPOC candidates with diverse perspectives for positions in all departments, particularly Communications, Curatorial, Development, Education, and Legal, and prioritize Director-level positions.
  • Mandate anti-racist education and training for all levels of employees.
  • Create a permanent, full-time, Director-level position dedicated to advocating for racial equity within the institution.
  • Establish a transparent institution-wide process for exhibition development.
  • Implement annual performance reviews of leadership by staff to ensure manager accountability and oversight, and to eliminate abuse of power; carry out the first round of these reviews upon implementation of this policy.
  • Rectify pay inequity in the museum, implement salary transparency practices, and create clear and consistent paths for advancement; immediately establish pay bands, bringing employees at the same level within the same pay range.

IN PERPETUITY:

  • Enact a new mission statement that commits to interrogating and correcting the museum’s history, with an acknowledgment of colleagues who were targeted and/or removed for challenging the status quo.
  • Work with staff to uproot violent, exclusionary structures within the museum.
  • Pledge to uphold a culture that values transparency and collaboration, and uplifts BIPOC voices.
  • Acknowledge LaBouvier’s role as the museum’s first Black curator, as well as her position in the museum’s overall history, without equivocation or obfuscation.

Given the museum’s culture of fear and record of retaliation, we understand the risk we take in signing this letter. We also understand that many of our colleagues are not in a position to take that risk. We stand with those who have been silenced and erased: colleagues who were maligned to their peers, colleagues whose Human Resources claims were discounted, colleagues who were targeted in recent furloughs for speaking out, and colleagues who were pushed out of the institution for critiquing leadership on these very issues.

We have all heard and shared distressing stories of racism at the museum that we refuse to ignore. Reform alone is not enough. The museum must, first and foremost, name, take accountability for, and dismantle its anti-Blackness and racist practices. We speak out now to expose a culture of harm and begin our work to build a better Guggenheim. Finally, we are acutely aware of empty promises that have been made before to address the institution’s white dominant culture. There is a growing urgency for change and a need to heal deep mistrust that must be met by senior leadership now. We urge you to join us in this work.

Signed,

  1. Indira A. Abiskaroon, Curatorial Assistant, Collections, 2018–present
  2. Juliana Acevedo, 2016–present
  3. Sholto Ainslie, Art Handler, 1992–2019
  4. Maggie Albert, Associate, Development, 2013–2016
  5. Keith Anderson, Painter, Exhibition Construction, 2008–present
  6. Silvina Arismendi, Art Handler, 2015–present
  7. Katrina Arutunyan, 2020–present
  8. Shinsuke Aso, Gallery Educator, 2004–present
  9. Josefina Bahamondes, Visitor Assistant, 2017–2019
  10. Bogyi Banovich, Art Handler and Installer, 2014–present
  11. Jeap Barradas, Associate/Administrative Coordinator, Visitor Services, 2007–2014
  12. Diego Benavente, Carpenter, 2017–present
  13. Cole Billik, Teen Volunteer, Education, 2016–2017
  14. Clara Boesch, Manager, Interactive, 2019–present
  15. Donovan Borger, Gallery Guide, 2018–present
  16. Claire Borre, Curatorial Assistant, 2019–2020 
  17. Michela Bridger, Gallery Guide, 2016–present
  18. Ash Brown, Sales Associate, 2016–2018
  19. Desiree Byer, Retail Sales Associate, 2018–present
  20. Holly Campbell, Director of Marketing, 2013–2020
  21. Seth Caplan, School, Youth and Family Programs Educator, 2011-present
  22. Caroline Carr, Gallery Guide, 2018–present
  23. Ariana Catarisano, Associate, Group Sales & Box Office, 2013–2019
  24. Maria Celi, Managing Director of Visitor Services and Retail Operations, 2005–2015
  25. Esther Chao, Conservator, Objects, 2006–present
  26. Jocelyn Chase, Associate Manager, Media Arts, 2010–present
  27. Marcy Chevali, Exhibition Construction, 2009–present
  28. Olivia Cieri, Sales Associate, 2019
  29. Jeff Clemens, Senior Preparator, 1997–present
  30. Bryan Cook, Exhibition Construction, 2015–present
  31. Elizabeth Cosgrove, Digital Marketing Associate, 2017–present
  32. Jaynie Crimmins, Volunteer, 2016–present
  33. James Cullinane, Art Handler & former Senior Exhibition Tech., 1990–present
  34. Cassie Dagostino, Global Communications Associate, 2017–present
  35. Eva Mayhabal Davis, Gallery Guide, 2013–2018
  36. Francesca DeBiaso, Visitor Services, 2012–2014
  37. Patrick Delaney, Art Handler, 2001–present
  38. Stephen Diefenderfer, Associate Director of Museum Events, 1983-1990 and 1997-2010
  39. Richard Dorfman, Exhibition Lighting Team, 2004–present
  40. Caitlin Dover, Associate Director of Digital Media, 2012–2013, 2014–present
  41. Robert Duffy, Associate Director, Interactive Technology and App, 2012–2019
  42. Sarah Dwider, Curatorial Assistant, Abu Dhabi, 2015–2017
  43. Megan Dyer, Art Handler, 1996–present
  44. Abigail Entsminger, Multimedia Tech, 2017–present
  45. Reem Fadda, Associate Curator, Abu Dhabi, 2010–2016
  46. Jonathan Farbowitz, Fellow in the Conservation of Computer-Based Art, 2016–2019
  47. Katelyn Farstad, Art Handler and Installer, 2019–present
  48. JiaJia Fei, Associate Director, Digital Marketing, 2010–2016
  49. Joseph Field, Security Supervisor and Gallery Guide, 2008–2019
  50. Michelle Millar Fisher, Coordinator, Education Department, 2005–2009
  51. Kamilah Foreman, Managing Editor, 2008–2013
  52. Kit Fretz, Photography Intern & Imaging Assistant, 2019
  53. Angela Garcia, Gallery Educator; Youth Educator, 2014–present
  54. Andrew Garvin, Global Communications Intern, Digital Guides Associate, 2018–2019
  55. Steven Goehrig, Visitor Assistant, 2018–2019
  56. Alessandra Gómez, Public Programs Intern, 2014
  57. Manuela Gonzalez, Youth Educator, 2015-present
  58. Julia Hahn, Senior Manager of Theater Operation, 2008–present
  59. Susan Hamburger, LTA, Teaching Artist, 2013–Present
  60. Janice Handleman, Art Handler, 2006–present
  61. Rukhshan Haque, Gallery Educator, 2017–present
  62. Anna Harsanyi, Project Manager, Guggenheim Social Practice, 2016–2018
  63. Eric Heist, Part Time Art Handler, ASaP, 1997–present
  64. Mike Inwood, Lighting, 2011–present
  65. Liz Jaff, Senior Preparator, 1997–present
  66. Maya Jeffereis, Public Engagement Associate, 2014–2016
  67. Ian Jeffrey, Gallery Guide, 2015–2020
  68. Steve Jennings, Technical Consultant, Theater, 2014–2020
  69. Nathaniel Joslin, Art Handler, 2009–present
  70. Fawz Kabra, Assistant Curator, Abu Dhabi, 2014–2016
  71. Lucas Kane, Art Handler, 2018–present
  72. Kai-Ti Kao, Manager, Group Sales & Box Office, 2006–2020
  73. Joel Kaplan, Art Handler, 2007–present
  74. Shiori Kawasaki, Associate Production Manager, Publication, 2015–present
  75. Inji Kim, Finance Intern, 2018
  76. Stephan Knuesel, Digital Media Producer, 2016–present
  77. Queena Ko, Project Manager, Curriculum Development, School Programs, 2018–present
  78. Brian Koffler, Retail Associate, 2017–2019
  79. Essie Lash, Senior Manager, Marketing, 2015–present 
  80. Patricia Isaacs–Ledna, Associate Manager, 1996–2019
  81. Lisa Leighton, Youth, Family, and Guggenheim For All Educator, 2015–present
  82. Alisha Kim Levin, Manager, Global Communications, 2010–2019 
  83. Jennifer Lim, Assistant Registrar, Outgoing Loans, 2016–present 
  84. Cristina Linclau, Manager of Exhibitions and Collections Information, 2018–present
  85. Raashon Lloyd, Retail Stock Associate, 2014–2019
  86. Gigi Loizzo, Retail Director, 2015–2019
  87. Francis Louvis, Exhibit Construction and Fabrication, 2015–present
  88. Michael Lum, Associate Manager of Membership, 2004–2009
  89. Joanna Lundberg, Art Handler, 2014–present
  90. Mikayla Lynch, Associate Manager, Global Communications, 2012–2017
  91. Lori Mahaney, Associate Registrar, 2005–2016
  92. Sarah Malaika, Associate Manager, Global Projects, 2009–2017
  93. Peter Mallo, Chief of Framemaking, 2005–present
  94. Olivia Manno, Social Media Producer, 2019–present 
  95. Anna Martin, Teaching Artist Learning Through Art, 2018–present
  96. Ferran Martin, 2015–present
  97. Sirena Maxfield, 2009–2017
  98. Esperanza Mayobre, ASaP, 2007–present
  99. Chandler McArthur, Retail Associate, 2018–2019
  100. Kristopher Mckay, Studio Manager and Photographer, 2007–2018
  101. Emily Melander, Youth, Family, and Guggenheim for All Educator, 2014–2020
  102. Rebecca Mir, Associate Manager, Digital Media and Online Learning, 2013–2016
  103. Angel Molina, Carpenter, 2016–present
  104. Aaron Mooney, Lighting, 2005–present
  105. Lauren Motzkin, Associate Manager, Global Communications, 2015–2017
  106. Paula Muga, Global Communications Intern, 2018
  107. Erick Munari, Art Handler, 2004–present
  108. Blake Paskal Myers, Public Engagement Coordinator, 2017–2019
  109. Steven Mykietyn, Multimedia, 2014–present
  110. Daisy Nam, Development Coordinator, 2005–2008
  111. Alex Nathanson, Multimedia Technician, 2015–present
  112. Andrea Navarro, Marketing Intern, 2018
  113. Maria Nicanor, Associate Curator, Architecture & Urbanism, 2005–2014
  114. Gabriela O’Leary, Youth Educator, 2015–present
  115. Maicol Ospina, Senior Sales/Retail, 2017–2019
  116. Steven Ott, Cabinet Maker, 2005–present
  117. Sonia Paauwe, Art Handler, ASaP, 2012–2018
  118. Luned Palmer, Learning Through Art Teaching Artist, 2017–present
  119. Alicia Papanek, Art Handler, 2010-2019
  120. Paul Paradiso, Multimedia Technician, 2002–present
  121. Kristina Parker, Senior Publicist, 2012–2019
  122. Zachary Petersen, Art Services and Preparation, Exhibition Construction, 2013–present
  123. Lily Philpott, Public Programs Coordinator, 2018–2019
  124. Jacqueline Popjes, Public Engagement Associate, 2017–2019, 2019–present
  125. Henry Portillo, Visitor Assistant, 2017–2019
  126. Keisha Prioleau–Martin, Art Handler, Art Services and Preparations, 2018–present
  127. Danielle Rago, Security Supervisor and Gallery Guide, 2016–present
  128. Shama Rahman, Marketing Associate, 2013–2015
  129. Sara Raza, Former Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator for Middle East & North Africa, 2015–2018
  130. Alexandra Revans, Associate Manager, Marketing, 2016–2020 
  131. Aaron Richardson, ASaP, 2010–present
  132. Harineta Rigatos, Digital Marketing Manager, 2016–2019 
  133. Lauren Robbins, Exhibition Manager, 2015–present
  134. Marie-Isabella Rogers, Curatorial Intern, 2019
  135. Rachel Ropeik, Senior Manager of Public Engagement, 2015–2019
  136. Amy Rosenblum-Martín, Youth Educator, 2008–present
  137. Christine Rung, Exhibition Design, Coordinator, 2013–present
  138. Claudia Peña Salinas, Art Handler, 2010–present
  139. Shannon Sberna, Carpenter: Exhibition Construction / Fabrication, 2007–present
  140. Kerri Schlottman, Director of Institutional Development, 2013–2016
  141. Anne Scotti, Family Kiosk Supervisor, Education, 2019–present
  142. Alan Seise, Manager, Public Programs, 2012–present 
  143. Anne Sharpe, Associate Manager, Abu Dhabi, 2015–2019
  144. Jeannette Sharpless, Assistant Registrar for Collections, 2018–present 
  145. Anton Sherin, Carpenter, Exhibition Construction, 2009–present
  146. Naemeh Shirazi, School, Youth, Family, and Guggenheim For All Educator, 2015-present 
  147. Tim Shrider, ASaP, 2004–2015
  148. Madeleine Sinnock, Visitor Assistant, 2018–present
  149. Samantha Small, Curatorial Assistant, 2015–2019
  150. Lindsay Smilow, Associate Manager and Teaching Artist LTA, 2012–present
  151. Julie K. Smitka, Associate Producer, Interactive, 2020–present 
  152. Karen Spahn, Lighting, 1998–present
  153. Robert Stein, Technician, Theater, 2014–present
  154. Molly Stewart, Publicist, Media & Public Relations, 2013–2016
  155. Christine Stewart-Shrider, ASaP, 2004–present
  156. Paula Stuttman, Gallery Educator, Youth, Access Educator, 2002–2015
  157. Jack Szwergold, Web Infrastructure Systems Administrator, 2011–2014
  158. Tyrone Tanous, Multimedia, 2017–present
  159. Rosemary Taylor, Teaching Artist, Learning Through Art (LTA), 2017–present
  160. Kirk Testa, Curatorial Intern, Latin American Art, 2019
  161. Elaine Tian, Curatorial Intern, 2019
  162. Kristen Tivey, Project Archives Assistant, 2018–2020
  163. Hillary Torrence, Manager, Conservation, 2006–present
  164. Anna Truxes, Business Manager, Retail, 2009–2016
  165. Elizabeth Vaccari, Assistant Manager of Retail, 2016–2019
  166. Shannon Vail, Gallery Guide, 2017–2018 
  167. Tomás Vega, Retail Associate/Retail Business Coordinator, 2014
  168. Joey Vincennie, Library and Archives Assistant, 2019–present
  169. Marcel Walker, Cabinetmaker/Exhibition Construction, 2005–present
  170. Ema Wang, Press Coordinator, 2019
  171. Miriam Weiner, Associate Director, Interactive, 2019–present 
  172. Jillian Wertheim, Manager, Special Events, 2018–present 
  173. Barbara Wohlsen, Lighting, 2000–present
  174. Cicely Wootan, Director, Corporate Development, 2010–2015
  175. Christina Yang, Director of Public Programs, 2005–2019
  176. Anonymous, Director, 2010–present
  177. Anonymous, Director, 2013–present
  178. Anonymous, Gallery Guide, 2018–present
  179. Anonymous, Gallery Educator; Youth Educator, 2014–present  
  180. Anonymous, 2014–present
  181. Anonymous, 2019–present
  182. Anonymous, 2018–present
  183. Anonymous, 2017–present
  184. Anonymous, 2005–present
  185. Anonymous, Visitor Assistant, 2018–2020
  186. Anonymous, Graduate Curatorial Intern, 2019
  187. Anonymous, Producer and Manager, Digital Media, 2013–2017
  188. Anonymous, 2011–2020
  189. Anonymous, 2018–present
  190. Anonymous, 2019–present
  191. Anonymous, 2019–present
  192. Anonymous, 2014–2019
  193. Anonymous, 2002–2017
  194. Anonymous, Gallery Guide, 2018–present
  195. Anonymous, Gallery Guide, 2015–2020
  196. Anonymous, Graduate Curatorial Intern, 2019
  197. Anonymous, Interactive & Digital Media, 2018–present
  198. Anonymous, ASaP, Pro-Serve, 1997–present
  199. Anonymous, ASaP, 2018–present
  200. Anonymous, Mount Maker, 2001–present
  201. Anonymous, 2016–present
  202. Anonymous, Theater, Lighting, 2015–present
  203. Anonymous, Intern, 2017
  204. Anonymous, 2019–present
  205. Anonymous, 2012–2018
  206. Anonymous, 2018–present
  207. Anonymous, 2017–present
  208. Anonymous, 2014–present
  209. Anonymous, 2017–present
  210. Anonymous, 2017–present
  211. Anonymous, 2010–2016
  212. Anonymous, Development Intern, 2020
  213. Anonymous, Youth Educator, 2012–present
  214. Anonymous, Visitor Assistant, 2000–2001
  215. Anonymous, 2014–2018
  216. Anonymous, 2012–2020
  217. Anonymous, 2014–2018
  218. Anonymous, Gallery Educator, 2008–present
  219. Anonymous, 2019–present
  220. Anonymous, Associate Director, External Affairs, 2007–2011
  221. Anonymous, 1992–2017
  222. Anonymous, Teen Volunteer, Education, 2015–2016
  223. Anonymous, Visitor Experience, 2008–Present
  224. Anonymous, Gallery Guide, 2015–present
  225. Anonymous, 2001–Present
  226. **A signature has been removed while an external investigation is ongoing

Signing this letter

Thank you for signing this letter to the Board of Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Whether a current or former employee, you may choose to sign with your name displayed or sign anonymously.

You will be asked to share a small amount of information, so that those signing can be verified as current or former employees of the museum.

First name, last name, years with the museum, and email addresses are required. No email addresses will be distributed and if you opt to be listed anonymously your names will not be shared under any circumstances. You may also choose to share your current or former title and department. All information will be kept secure and confidential.

After submitting, it will take a few minutes for your name to appear on the list.

If you have any questions please contact abetterguggenheim@gmail.com

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