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Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Thomas Ledl.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Thomas Ledl.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Fires Director Nathalie Bondil, Sparking Outcry, Gov’t Inquiry

The board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ (MMFA) explosive decision to fire longtime director Nathalie Bondil is now being investigated by the government of Quebec, the museum’s largest funder. The process, which intends to clarify the opaque reasoning surrounding Bondil’s departure, is expected to take three to four weeks and will involve interviews with current and former employees as well as members of the board of trustees.

Last year, a report made by an independent human-resources consulting firm hired by the union representing the museum’s employees found “significant and multilayered deterioration of the workplace climate.” In light of this, curator Mary-Dailey Desmarais was brought on as director of the curatorial division, working as an intermediary between Bondil and the rest of the curatorial staff.

According to board president Michel de la Chenelière, Bondil failed to address the department’s “toxic” environment and was dismissed as a result. Bondil, who has worked at the institution for over two decades, alleges that her July 13 termination was a result of her unwillingness to sign a public statement endorsing the “rigor” of the museum’s hiring process. After Desmarais’s appointment was announced, a scorecard evaluating the performance of all candidates for the post was shown to Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. It revealed that Desmarais had been given the lowest marks, prompting suspicion that she was selected in part for her family’s wealth. Desmarais, née Pattee, married into one of Canada’s richest families in 2008, and her husband’s uncle, André Desmarais, had previously been involved in fundraising for the museum. In a statement issued on July 20, the museum board stood by its decision and expressed its full support for the official inquiry set in place by Quebec’s culture ministry.

Bondil, who is credited with raising the international profile of the MMFA, has been fiercely defended by museum directors and culture ministers in France, Quebec, and Virginia. Emma Lavigne, the head of Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, denounced the decision as “an act of pure violence” in a statement to the Art Newspaper, and the Musée d’Orsay canceled the Canadian leg of its traveling exhibition about Charles Darwin, which was due to be presented at the MMFA next spring. “No one, and certainly no head of a museum, should be treated like this,” Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez told a French newspaper.

The government’s intervention follows an online petition calling for the MMFA to suspend Bondil’s dismissal until the museum created an assembly to share insights into the decision-making process with members. The petition, launched by Thomas Bastien—who directed the MMFA’s education and wellness department until February—has garnered thousands of signatures.