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Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Photo: Jim Forest/Flickr.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Photo: Jim Forest/Flickr.

MFA Boston Launches Diversity and Inclusion Fund Following Racist Incidents

The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, which came under scrutiny last spring after a group of minority middle-school students said that they were subjected to racist remarks by other visitors as well as the institution’s staff, has launched a $500,000 fund for diversity and inclusion initiatives. The fund was established as part of an agreement with the state of Massachusetts following its investigation into the allegations of racial discrimination that were raised by teachers and students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester.

“Our cultural institutions play an important role in fostering and providing an inclusive environment for communities and people of all backgrounds,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement on Tuesday. “Today’s agreement affirms the experiences of students and teachers from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy and lifts up their voices and the voices of local communities of color to help shape change and greater understanding. This agreement lays out processes which can serve as a model for cultural institutions in our ongoing collective work to build diversity and inclusivity in Boston and well beyond.”

Last May, an academy teacher who had taken a group of thirty students on a field trip to the museum filed a complaint with the visitor services office after her students said that an employee told them that “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were permitted in the galleries. They also claimed a security guard followed them through the museum and that two visitors made disparaging comments about them. The museum issued an apology to the school the week following the incidents, and the patrons accused of making derogatory remarks have since been banned from the premises.

The Office of the Attorney General acknowledged that the MFA had already undertaken efforts, both before and after the field trip, to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion by providing unconscious bias training, hiring a chief of learning and community engagement, and creating the new role of senior director of belonging and inclusion, which has yet to be filled. As part of the agreement between the state and the museum, the MFA has committed to working with the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy on an action plan that will ensure all members of the community are welcome to the institution and will introduce new programs, including internships for minority students and local schools and partnerships with local artists of color and organizations that primarily serve students of color.

The institution has also overhauled its existing polices and will implement new anti-discrimination and anti-harassment guidelines that address how the staff should interact with the public and how they should handle incidents that involve visitors being mistreated by other museumgoers. In addition, it will implement new procedures for conducting internal investigations and reviewing complaints and will hire an external consultant to assist with the implementation of its new diversity and inclusion initiatives. The consultant will also write up biannual reports on the MFA’s progress that will be accessible to the public.

Commenting on the steps that have been taken since the school trip, museum director Matthew Teitelbaum said: “We have learned a great deal during the past year and through this process, and while we have more to learn and more work to do, together we will succeed. Whether you walk through the doors of the Museum every day, every week, once a year, or just once, everyone is welcome at the MFA.”