Toward a More Inclusive MFA

In response to feedback from the MFA and Boston community, we have created this space about our ongoing work toward inclusion in the immediate and long-term future. This is our living, breathing record of our work together. We hear you, and we want you to hold us accountable for what we’ve promised.

Davis Leadership Academy Visit

A group of 26 middle-school students with chaperones from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy visited the MFA on May 16, 2019. They were on a self-guided visit. Before leaving the Museum, the group filed a complaint with Member and Visitor Services that they were met with racism and verbal abuse from visitors and staff during the visit.

Upon learning of the class’s experience, we immediately contacted school officials to apologize. At the same time, we began conducting a thorough investigation to review what happened and determine consequences. You can read the report here.

Our Promise

When we launched our Strategic Plan, MFA 2020 in 2017, we focused on new audiences and our invitation, welcome and engagement. New initiatives—like MFA Late Nites and City Talks—activated those ideas while also building upon the long-standing community and educational programs that have been the focus of our work for decades. In this moment, in today’s Boston, we have heard from our young visitors that we have let them down on the fulfillment of our key promises: a bold invitation, a warm welcome, and deep engagement.

We believe that to create a truly inviting and welcoming museum we must be empathetic to visitors’ experiences and understand what they bring to the institution. Everyone at the MFA wants the Museum to belong to all of Boston. We know that we have work to do to achieve that goal, and we are committed to doing so.

We will continue to address these fundamental issues as an institution, both with immediate steps and long-term commitments.

Update: September 10, 2019

The MFA has announced a new position, Senior Director of Inclusion, to support the Museum’s commitment to become a more inclusive organization, reach new audiences, and bring the power of art into the community. The job description is being developed through conversations with local leaders and partners, who met in a roundtable format to share ideas about the key responsibilities and ideal candidate profile. The job description will be finalized in the coming weeks and posted to the Museum’s website. The Senior Director will lead a new department dedicated to inclusion within the division of Learning and Community Engagement and will report to Makeeba McCreary, Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement. This new position signals the MFA’s deepened commitment to inclusion, community and generosity—core tenets of the Museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020 and beyond, key to inspiring new audiences to explore the collection.

Yesterday, Matthew Teitelbaum, the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Director, led a conversation with city officials to discuss the Museum’s ongoing efforts toward inclusion. This included discussions about the newly created Senior Director position and improvements to procedures for visits from schoolchildren.

Comments from Attendees

Kim Janey, Boston City Councilor, District 7

“I'd like to thank the MFA for continuing the conversation around changes to its own policies and procedures that will make the Museum more welcoming to all. I know this is an ongoing process that needs to be approached thoughtfully, with a focus on equity—this is not "one and done." I look forward to a broader conversation with many of our cultural institutions about celebrating and embracing race, inclusion, and diversity.”

Joseph Feaster, My Brother’s Keeper Boston Co-Chair

“I am pleased with the progress Matthew Teitelbaum, Makeeba McCreary, and the MFA team have made in conducting self-examination of the organization and engaging community partners to insure that visitors of color feel welcomed at the MFA, that the MFA board, staff and volunteers receive training on bias, and their effort to better address racial diversity at all levels of the organization. I look forward to continuing to assist Matthew and Makeeba with this effort.”

Thaddeus Miles, My Brother’s Keeper Boston Co-Chair

“I’m proud of what we have done together, the progressive nature of thought and the fact that together we have created a place for truth telling—a requirement for true change to take place. I look forward to being part of that process.”

Update: September 9, 2019

Starting October 15, 2019, the MFA will implement a range of improvements to the school group experience—developing an environment where all young people trust that they will feel safe and celebrated. A variety of enhancements will enable teachers and students to better connect curriculum to the Museum’s works of art, explore the collection to complete assignments, find inspiration and have fun in the galleries. Created after discussions with teachers, students, local government officials and community partners that began in the spring, these changes are key to fulfilling the MFA’s promise to provide young visitors with a warm welcome and deep engagement with the Museum and its collection.

“We’ve reimagined the school group experience—from before students arrive at the MFA and extending beyond their visit,” said Makeeba McCreary, Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement. “We’re especially appreciative of the community participation throughout this process, and could not have reached this point without contributions from school leaders, our nonprofit partners, teachers and our teen scholars. It is our hope that we continue to make changes as we put this tool kit into action—so that groups now and long into the future have the best possible experience at the Museum.”

Improvements include how the MFA prepares school groups before their visit, a more welcoming entry experience, and expansion of available tools and on-site support during every group visit. Integral to the long-term success of the initiatives is a cross-departmental working group—formed to evaluate these new systems and incorporate feedback from teachers, chaperones, group organizers and students—which will continue to improve the process over time.

Extensive pre-planning materials will be available on mfa.org and new features include:

  • Prior to visiting, all K–12 school group organizers will receive a questionnaire designed to better understand what teachers need to prepare for their visit, answer questions and provide the Museum with greater insight into how to create the best possible experience for students.
  • Group organizers will be provided with the newly produced web presentation “Field Trip 101” based on input from participants, outlining what can be expected at the MFA and help answer questions. This presentation will also be available onsite, with several opportunities each semester for group organizers to visit the Museum for an orientation.
  • A new video, produced with insight from MFA teen program participants, will be available for students to watch with group organizers prior to their visit. The video is designed to address areas of interest and any concerns young people may have, many of whom will be visiting the MFA for the first time.
  • Increased staffing will be in place at the Museum’s School Group Entrance, located at the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art off Museum Road. This staffing will enable us to welcome all groups immediately upon arrival and tours will be extended to 75 minutes, allowing for flexibility on start times to accommodate late and early arrivals.
  • New handouts customized for chaperones and teachers will include a map with key locations throughout the Museum, tips on how to navigate galleries and safeguard works of art, and on-site contacts for assistance, should any be required during visits.
  • The new "Gallery Hosts" program will place trained educators in highly visited galleries to assist with wayfinding, answer questions and provide connections to the collection.

Active for more than five decades, the MFA’s school group program welcomes nearly 60,000 K–12 students annually and aims to support a wide range of schools from across New England, whether through guided tours with Gallery Instructors or self-guided visits facilitated by teachers. All tours support the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and Common Core State Standards and are offered for students in grades 3–12. “Explorations for Early Learners” tours are available for students in grades K–2.

Update: July 18, 2019

New partnerships for teen scholars

The MFA announced a new partnership with Becoming a Man (BAM) and The BASE to host four paid Boston teen scholars at the Museum. The Boston teens will curate an exhibition featuring Modern art by American artists of color along with the MFA’s Teen Arts Council (TAC), STEAM team, and two participants from the Bloomberg Arts Internship program Boston program managed by Edvestors. The exhibition will open on January 20, 2020—the MFA’s free Martin Luther King Jr. community day—and will be a centerpiece of celebrations marking the MFA’s 150th anniversary in 2020.

The young scholars will be mentored by Layla Bermeo, the MFA’s Kristin and Roger Servison Associate Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, and partner with curators and colleagues across the Museum as they participate in workshops that build curatorial skills, enabling the interns to develop the themes of their exhibition, select and study the works of art, and collaborate on the design, interpretation, and programming. These new teen programs have been developed by the MFA’s division of Learning and Community Engagement—established in early 2019 and led by Makeeba McCreary, the Patti and Jonathan Kraft Chief of Learning and Community Engagement—which aims to boldly combine art and ideas with a commitment to welcoming new and diverse audiences.

Update: June 29, 2019

Statement regarding Boston Globe article about MFA security officers, June 29, 2019

The MFA values our security officers and their very important job – to protect the safety of the Museum and collection, as well as visitors, staff, and volunteers. We have put great effort into building a positive and productive relationship with Union leadership and all our officers, and do not feel that the Boston Globe story reflects this current relationship. In just the past few months, for example, we've worked closely with the security team on a range of issues, including brainstorming initiatives for the Museum’s 150th anniversary, meetings about upcoming exhibitions, and opportunities for officers' children to share in their working experience. We’re pleased to report that a portrait of security officer Brenda Lee will be in an upcoming installation of artist-commissioned banners. In addition to their role of protecting the collection, our security team is integral to the life of this Museum.

It is our hope that these examples and other efforts will build on our relationship as well as express our values of accountability and care. Even with these efforts, and our ongoing dialogue with all staff, we have more work to do to build a more inclusive museum for all.

The Museum takes seriously the claims cited in the Boston Globe of management’s disrespectful comments to security officers. In fact, the people to whom the Boston Globe attributes these quotes were subject to disciplinary action and no longer work at the Museum. Furthermore, all the discrimination lawsuits mentioned in the article were found to be without merit. The specific claim mentioned in the Boston Globe was dismissed by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the federal court, and the payment referenced was not related to discrimination, but was for back wages. No MCAD claim against the MFA was found to have had merit; none are pending and none have resulted in a finding against the MFA. In addition, internal complaints that any security officer or group of security officers were unfairly singled out by the MFA have been found to be untrue.

Roundtable discussions

Roundtable discussions with the community on racial equity and inclusion at the MFA continued on June 18: one with representatives from local non-profits and community organizations and one with professionals from creative industries. Launched in early May, the series will continue in August with high school students and families.

Update: June 25, 2019

This afternoon, the MFA received a letter from Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston, on behalf of students, parents and an educator at the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy. The MFA is cooperating with Attorney General Maura Healey in all aspects of her investigation and is also in the midst of an independent external investigation by Casner & Edwards LLP. When both investigations are complete, the MFA will take the appropriate next steps.

Since the school’s visit, and in fact long before, MFA staff and volunteers have been working to examine and improve all aspects of our operation to ensure that everyone feels welcome. We know that we have work to do to achieve that goal, and we are committed to doing so.

Update: June 13, 2019

MFA statement regarding the Attorney General’s investigation

The MFA welcomes the opportunity to work with Attorney General Maura Healey in her investigation. In an effort to provide greater objectivity and clarity, the Museum had already retained counsel to conduct an independent external investigation by Casner & Edwards LLP. While both investigations are ongoing, the MFA cannot provide additional information at this time. The Museum is committed to becoming stronger through inclusivity and accountability to our communities.

Update: June 12, 2019

The MFA has engaged counsel to conduct an external investigation of the incidents on May 16, 2019, and of the Museum’s internal investigation that followed. The investigation will be led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger of the Boston-based firm Casner & Edwards LLP, and begin immediately. The Museum had announced the findings of its own investigation on May 24, 2019. In the ensuing weeks, we continued discussion with our Boards of Trustees and Advisors, community leaders, and other engaged constituencies. We came to the decision that an investigation by an external party could provide greater objectivity and clarity. We look forward to their report and sharing what we learn with the MFA community and public.

Update: June 7, 2019

  • Roundtable discussions with the community on race and inclusion at the MFA, planned earlier, took place this week: one with artists of color and one with K–12 teachers and administrators.
  • We continue to be in conversation with local government officials and community leaders about inclusion at the MFA.
  • Training at the MFA continues. Conflict resolution and unconscious bias training has been scheduled for all staff and sessions began this week. Future sessions are being scheduled for all volunteers.

Immediate Next Steps: May 31, 2019

  • In response to the specific harassment of the Davis Leadership Academy group on May 16, we have taken immediate action by barring two visitors from the Museum.
  • We have added staff to the school groups entrance to improve our welcome and changed our orientation greeting.
  • We are increasing staffing in the galleries by adding visitor services positions and increasing hours for existing representatives. These staff members will be able to assist visitors throughout their visit and respond to any incidents while the guards continue their security function.
  • We are in active conversations this week with our local government officials about race and Boston’s cultural institutions.
  • We’ve been in regular contact with the staff at the Davis Leadership Academy and have another meeting scheduled with them on Monday. We have regularly requested another meeting with the students and are respecting their lead on the timing.

Long-Term Commitments

  • With the help of outside experts, we are expediting and evolving our ongoing mandatory training program for all staff.
  • In early May, we announced seven sessions of unconscious bias training that will take place throughout June and July. The Leadership Team and Board members on the Governance & Nominating and Executive Committees completed this training in January.

  • Also in early May, we announced that two sessions on conflict resolution will take place in June. The workshop will allow staff participants to develop skills for resolving various conflicts that come up in the workplace.
  • We are reviewing all visitor touchpoints to improve every visitor’s experience, from entry to exit.
  • Externally, our department of Learning and Community Engagement, headed by Makeeba McCreary, has organized a series of roundtables on inclusion and racial diversity at the MFA. The first one took place in May, with academic administrators, faculty and students. Upcoming sessions will engage artists of color; K-12 school leaders, administrators and teachers; non-profit and community partners; and professionals in creative industries.
  • The Museum is committed to City Talks, a series launched in 2016 to engage leading Boston-area thinkers, institutions, entrepreneurs, activists, and artists in free public forums on prevalent themes within current exhibitions that impact our community culturally, socially, and politically. Recent panels have discussed representation, opioids, monuments, bodies and expression, and narratives of resistance.
  • We will continue to be intentional in recruitment processes that build and support a diverse complement of staff, volunteers and governance, to reflect and best serve the City of Boston and the values of our Museum.

Contact/Feedback

We invite you to continue to hold our institution accountable and welcome you to share your questions, concerns, and suggestions by e-mailing feedback@mfa.org.

Our commitment to being a safe space for all extends to our communications. Please note that any e-mails containing expletives or abusive language will be deleted.

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