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Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis Staff Member Attacked

After an unnamed Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis employee was verbally and nearly physically attacked at a gas station for being a member of the institution’s staff on Monday, October 3, the museum released a statement saying that in recent weeks its employees have been harassed and threatened.

The statement reads: “CAM has always welcomed argument, dialogue, dissent, and debate about its exhibitions. In recent weeks, members of CAM’s staff have been harassed and personally threatened. Today, a staff member was attacked in public for wearing a CAM T-shirt. While we welcome debate, we cannot accept hate speech or violence.”

According to Artnews, the staff member, who was identified as a woman of color, was approached at a gas station by another woman who asked her if she worked at the museum. After the employee confirmed that she did, the woman started to insult her. She threw a soda bottle at her, and according to museum director Lisa Melandri, “tried to take a few swings at her.”

“Something real happened to somebody on staff,” Melandri told Artnews in an interview. “It is my responsibility, as director, to care for the staff members. It simply was essential to share that something had happened, and that a different kind of escalation in anti-CAM [rhetoric] was happening.”

The incident occurred almost a month after the museum opened a Kelley Walker exhibition that has sparked protests due to Walker’s appropriation of civil rights movement photos and images of African American women. Titled “Direct Drive,” the show initially caused public outrage at an artist talk during which Walker and chief curator Jeffrey Uslip didn’t satisfactorily answer the audience’s questions.

The museum stated: “Because of direct threats to Chief Curator Jeffrey Uslip, we have decided that he will not participate in the public conversation on Friday. Executive Director Lisa Melandri will be answering questions from attendees regarding the role of CAM in the community, as well as furthering the discussion about the exhibition ‘Kelley Walker: Direct Drive.’”