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Akron Art Museum. Photo: joevare/Flickr.

Akron Art Museum Director Mark Masuoka Resigns Following Backlash

Akron Art Museum director Mark Masuoka tendered his resignation on Monday following mounting criticism of his leadership during his seven-year tenure. The arts administrator came under fire after a report published in Artnews last month described an environment of sexism, racism, and harassment at the museum, which was also detailed in an anonymous letter sent to the board of trustees by twenty-seven staffers in June 2019.

The museum hired the Ohio-based firm Kastner Westman & Wilkins to investigate claims that Masuoka and another senior-level employee fostered a “pervasive culture of race and gender discrimination and bullying which have resulted in a dysfunctional work environment and severely unhealthy turnover rate.” The institution told Artforum that, “where appropriate, actions were taken to address substantiated concerns.”

While the museum said it could not elaborate on decisions regarding personnel, it has since been called out for the lack of transparency surrounding its response to the accusations and has faced pressure from external parties, including former ex-board president Richard Rogers, who recently urged the institution to replace Masuoka. “The longer that this management team stays in place, the worse the damage to the institution is going to become,” Rogers wrote in an open letter earlier this month.

Since the allegations have been revisited by the media, Masuoka has not publicly responded to them. In a statement, current board president Drew Engles stressed that “appropriate and specific actions were taken by the museum board to comprehensively and directly address any substantiated allegations.” Meanwhile, Annie McFadden, chief of staff and deputy mayor of administration under Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan, has advised staffers who have complaints to file them with the Akron Civil Rights Commission.

“In accepting Mark’s resignation, the board agreed it was time for a change in leadership that represents an opportunity to create a new direction for the museum as we build a new organizational culture for the future,” Engles said in a statement on Tuesday. Temporarily closed to the public because of the Covid-19 pandemic and expected to reopen in July, the institution will form a search committee comprising board members, employees, and community leaders to help find Masuoka’s successor. Businessman and former board member Jon Fiume will serve as interim director until a new leader is appointed.

On taking up the role, Fiume remarked: “The Akron Art Museum is a vital cultural resource and outlet for our community as well as a personal passion of mine. I am honored to work closely with the staff and board and ensure a seamless transition to new leadership.”

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