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Philadelphia Museum of Art Faces Pressure from Lawmakers to Overhaul Harassment Polices

Following a New York Times investigation that brought to light sexual harassment complaints made against Joshua Helmer—the ex-director of the Erie Art Museum—the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) has been under scrutiny for how it handled allegations of misconduct when Helmer worked at the institution from 2013 to 2018.

The publication interviewed nine former female coworkers of Helmer’s at the PMA who said that Helmer made advances toward them at the workplace—four of the women entered consensual relationships with him, and two of the women directly reported to him. While some said they spoke to management about Helmer’s behavior, they didn’t know whether the institution investigated their complaints.

After Helmer departed the museum for undisclosed reasons in 2018—he was named head of the Erie Art Museum not long after—more complaints about Helmer emerged; several staffers claimed that they did not feel comfortable discussing their concerns about Helmer while he was still employed there. In November 2019, the institution barred Helmer from the building.

Since the New York Times report was published on Friday, January 10, hundreds of current and former employees of the PMA signed a statement of solidarity with those who came forward and spoke to the newspaper. The statement also claims that the stories “barely scratch the surface of the abuses perpetuated by [Helmer]” and calls for greater institutional accountability.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney have since echoed the statement’s demand for “structural change.” A representative from Kenney’s office, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the PMA “should review and strengthen its policies regarding anti-fraternization and sexual harassment, and require training for all staff.” A spokesperson for city council president Darrell L. Clarke added: “We’ll be looking very carefully at this situation and matter moving forward.” Wolfe, Kenney, and Clarke all serve on the PMA’s board in an ex officio capacity.

Moving forward, PMA museum director Timothy Rub said in a statement that the institution “will be engaging outside consultants to conduct a close review of our workplace environment, our policies and programs, including training activities so we understand how we can be better in the future.”