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Joshua Helmer. Courtesy of the Erie Art Museum.
Joshua Helmer. Courtesy of the Erie Art Museum.

[Update:] Erie Art Museum Director Departs After Thousands Sign Petition over Misconduct Complaints

After a New York Times investigation into workplace complaints made against Joshua Helmer, who currently serves as the director of Pennsylvania’s Erie Art Museum, galvanized nearly three thousand people to sign a petition calling for his dismissal, Helmer and the institution have parted ways. It is not yet clear whether Helmer was fired or asked to resign from the post.

Published on Friday, January 10, the New York Times report details interactions between Helmer and female employees who worked with him at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he served in various roles, including assistant director of interpretation from 2013 to 2018, as well as more recent communications between him and a young woman at the Erie Art Museum.

“I worked in the NFL for five years,” Alicia Parks, a former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader—who was a subordinate of Helmer’s at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—told the New York Times, “and no one spoke to me in a way that made me feel that uncomfortable.” At least three other coworkers claim they notified the institution’s management about Helmer’s conduct, with at least one complaint dating back to 2016. While the status of the complaints is unknown, Helmer resigned in 2018 for undisclosed reasons and was tapped to lead the Erie Art Museum a few months later.

Asla Alkhafaji, a college student interning at the Erie Art Museum, told the New York Times that Helmer invited her to his home. When she declined the invitation, she alleges that he began ignoring her in the workplace and eventually told her: “You’re the most useless intern we have.” Following the incident, the museum investigated a complaint made by Alkhafaji but found no grounds for disciplinary action.

Helmer, who is now thirty-one years old and one of the youngest museum heads in the country, did not discuss any of his relationships with the New York Times but said he always followed museum policy. He also claims that he left the Philadelphia Museum of Art to pursue other opportunities. While the institution would not comment on Helmer’s departure, an internal email reviewed by the New York Times and sent to staff members in November 2019 stated that Helmer was no longer permitted on the premises.

Hours after the New York Times report was published, the Erie Art Museum board of directors issued a statement which said that it “takes seriously all allegations of misconduct.” “Prior to offering Mr. Helmer the position at the Erie Art Museum, the board, with the help of an employment consultant, conducted due diligence including background checks. No issues were identified during our due diligence. The board will make further comment as appropriate.”

[Update: 1/13/20, 7:45 PM] This article has been amended to reflect that Helmer is no longer employed by the Erie Art Museum.