A neon artwork by Martin Creed installed on the facade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Photo: Kevin Chang/Flickr.

MOCAD Drops Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder Over Toxic Workplace Allegations

The board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has terminated director Elysia Borowy-Reeder over allegations of racism, sexism, and “exploitative labor practices” leveled by former employees. Borowy-Reeder, who had led the museum since 2013, was placed on administrative leave earlier this month after a group calling themselves MOCAD Resistance addressed an open letter to the board of directors signed by thirty-nine former staffers and thirty-six members of the institution’s youth council. “We experienced and witnessed various racist microaggressions, misgendering, violent verbal outbursts, misrepresentation of community partnerships, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff,” they wrote, describing an atmosphere of financial retaliation for employees who complained and a high turnover rate due to the stress and “mental anguish” caused by Borowy-Reeder.

The letter was sparked by the resignation of Tizziana Baldenebro, a curatorial Ford Foundation Fellow at the institution, who charged Borowy-Reeder with “outright racist behavior.” The past eight months have also seen the departures of three Black curators from the museum: Larry Ossei-Mensah, Maceo Keeling, and Jova Lynne, who left after reportedly being pressured to work while laid off and amid a family emergency.

“The board’s vote to remove our executive director is a painful but first step of a course correct for MOCAD,” said board chair Elyse Foltyn. “We have tried to deliver on diversity, equity, and inclusion since our inception. However, it is clear we need to do more, better and faster.” The board made its decision after hiring a special committee composed of Charles Boyd, Laura Hughes, and Keith Pomeroy to investigate the allegations.

Aside from replacing Borowy-Reeder as director, concrete demands in MOCAD Resistance’s open letter include reorganizing the board to reflect more racial and economic diversity, rehiring workers who resigned or were fired during the museum’s four-month pandemic-related shutdown, and extending parental leave policies.