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In open letter, Jewish Museum staff ask for greater diversity and transparency

The move follows growing frustration after a Zoom meeting among employees and upper management at the New York institution

Jewish Museum, New York Photo: Ajay Suresh, Wikimedia Commons

In an open letter addressed to the Jewish Museum director Claudia Gould, dozens of employees are calling for greater diversity within the museum citing the fact that the staff remains overly white and upper middle-class. “We ask you to listen as we say that we are disappointed by the Museum’s internal and external statements, and frustrated by the opacity of the process, which did not reflect any opportunity for open dialogue with our Museum staff,” according to the letter, seen by The Art Newspaper.

The issue came to a head during a Zoom meeting two weeks ago, between museum staff and upper management, during which the issue of diversity was brought up by some staff members. According to several current employees who wish to remain anonymous, the Jewish Museum has only one person of colour on staff, and none in influential positions such as curatorial.

After the Zoom meeting, at least 28 staff members wrote an open letter to Gould asking the director to “acknowledge the ways systemic racism is replicated within our institution,” and to conduct “an audit of institutional systems and structures that impede active staff engagement.”

The employees also asked museum management and the board for a plan to integrate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training in the work place and a greater commitment to hiring and retaining a more diverse workforce. “We also want to acknowledge that recent staff layoffs and furloughs have disproportionately affected Black, Indigenous, People of Color on staff,” the employees note. “This is one of many ways systemic racism is articulated through structures in place at this museum.”

The Jewish Museum and Claudia Gould were not immediately available for comment. In a Medium post published on 5 June, the museum emphasised its commitment to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and efforts to end systemic racism. The post says that “the senseless killings of George Floyd and so many others are a stark reminder of the continued pervasiveness of racism in America. We join the many voices that are demanding social change.”

So far, however, staff say that their calls for greater transparency and accountability within the museum remain largely unaddressed. They add that the silence contributes to the feeling of a double-standard considering the long history of oppression against the Jewish people, at the same time as American Jews of colour have spoken out about the need for the wider community to do more to confront racial injustice.

UPDATE: The Jewish Museum responded after publication stating that of the 110 individuals on staff, 38 (34.5%) do not identify as white. Three persons of colour are division or departmental directors. The museum also said that "many ideas were expressed in the letter including the desire to share the letter with the Jewish Museum’s Board of Trustees, which happened during a June 16 Board meeting."

The museum added that it was "committed to creating a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable institution for its staff as well as its visitors. As part of that we have created an anti-racist working group of Jewish Museum staff which is beginning meeting this week. At a 16 June meeting, our Board of Trustees committed to a few actions, including preparing a response to the staff letter, undergoing Diversity Equity Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI) training for the Board, and establishing a DEAI taskforce within the Board to work in parallel to the staff-led anti-racism working group."