Thank you, ladies. You were kind enough to volunteer for years. Some for decades. Now get out.
The Art Institute of Chicago has canned all of its volunteer docents–well-trained, volunteer educators–almost 150 in total. Their crime? Most were retired white women. No diversity, no inclusiveness. I’m betting many were… ew… straight. And… “cisgender.” Bah.
The Docent Council complained about the decision in a letter to Art Institute President James Rondeau:
We believe we were dismissed (1) because the museum’s perspective is that the current docent corps’ demographics do not meet the need of the strategic plan (2) the museum concluded that reengineering the docent program was a step towards achieving the museum’s important goal of creating a culture of diversity and inclusion.
“Once you cut through the blather, the letter basically said the museum had looked critically at its corps of docents, a group dominated by mostly (but not entirely) white, retired women with some time to spare, and found them wanting as a demographic,” stated the Chicago Tribune.
And if you think that’s ugly, here is the real punchline: Their “diverse” replacements will be paid $25 an hour.
Yes, you read that correctly, a volunteer crew of mostly white older women is out and a diverse, well-paid crew is coming in.
This is the work of the museum’s new Woman’s Board Executive Director, Learning and Public Engagement, Victoria Stein. Stein, who is black, was hired earlier this year.
“I am delighted that the Art Institute shares the priorities that have guided my work throughout my career: designing culturally responsive programming and anti-racist curricula, cultivating fully accessible spaces, and ensuring staff wellness and learning,” she said. “Setting the newly enhanced Ryan Learning Center in motion, and further strengthening partnerships with the Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools, and BIPOC cultural institutions, will be central to my work,” Stein wrote.
For someone who considers herself anti-racist, firing a bunch of women because of their skin tone seems pretty racist. She further stated:
As a civic institution, we acknowledge our responsibility to rebuild the volunteer educator program in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility to participate. Rather than refresh our current program, systems, and processes, we feel that now is the time to rebuild our program from the ground up.
“Frankly, the museum would certainly have had a tough lawsuit on its hands for age and race discrimination (there were laws against that, last time we checked) were it not for one thing: Everyone being nixed was a volunteer,” the Tribune noted. “And, as at least one docent found out after contacting the AARP, volunteers are not covered by federal employment laws. We’ll wager museum lawyers had pointed that out.”
The chair of the board of trustees for the Art Institute of Chicago, Robert M. Levy, fired back at the Tribune.
“Tuesday’s Chicago Tribune editorial contained numerous inaccuracies and mischaracterizations of the Art Institute’s decision to rebuild our model for learning,” he declared. “Rather than looking at the museum as a leader in how cultural institutions around the world are evolving to meet the needs of their audiences, the Editorial Board’s take resulted in a wholehearted endorsement of the status quo. The Tribune’s egregiously anti-civic stance, and the decision of many in our community to view this as an indictment of their own identity, is misaligned and disregards the driving force behind the program: to better serve Chicago-area students and visitors and foster lifelong relationships with art.”
So a bunch of older white women were fired to meet the needs of the Art Institute’s audience? That sounds like a pretty racist audience to me.
The fired docents will receive complimentary memberships to the institute through 2023. Nice.
Even worse, they are also “invited” to apply for paid positions, even though they were just canned for a lack of “diversity.” If they fired volunteers for being white, why would the women think they have a chance at a paid job?
The Institute also laid off 76 paid workers and furloughed another 109 during the pandemic.
Understandably, the museum’s roughly 640 remaining employees are now forming a union. Workers at major art museums in Philly, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles have recently formed unions as well.
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the largest and oldest art museums in the U.S. It saw roughly 1.5 million visitors annually before the “pandemic.”
The racism seen at the institute isn’t new to Chicago. Mayor Lightfoot and her prosecutor, Kim Foxx, are turning a blind eye to “certain” criminals. Read about that here.