A neon artwork by Martin Creed installed on the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Photo: Michael Barera.

MOCAD Director Placed on Leave After Allegations of Racism, Unfair Labor Conditions

The board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) has put executive director Elysia Borowy-Reeder on administrative leave following employee complaints of “outright racist behavior” and “exploitative labor practices,” Artnews reports. 

On July 6, MOCAD Resistance—a group of seventy-five former staff members and institutionally affiliated youth—wrote an open letter to the board of directors about conditions in the recently reopened museum. “We experienced and witnessed various racist micro-aggressions, mis-gendering, violent verbal outbursts, misrepresentation of community partnerships, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff,” they wrote, further alleging that employees who complained were subject to verbal retaliation and punitive loss of compensation.

The group’s demands include replacing Borowy-Reeder as executive director, reorganizing the board toward greater racial and economic diversity and appointing an elected employee representative, rehiring workers who resigned or were fired during the museum’s seventeen-week pandemic-related shutdown, and expanding parental leave provisions.

In the past eight months, MOCAD has lost three Black curators: Larry Ossei-Mensah, Maceo Keeling, and Jova Lynne. Lynne resigned after allegedly being pressured to work while laid off and in the midst of a family emergency.

New Red Order, an artist collective whose first solo museum exhibition is slated to open at MOCAD today, has asked that their show be postponed until the demands of MOCAD Resistance are met. An independent investigation is being conducted, and the board has set up a confidential email address and toll-free hotline to solicit further information about the situation.