This morning, the Akron Art Museum announced that executive director Mark Masuoka resigned from his position effective immediately after seven years leading the Ohio institution. The news came less than three weeks after ARTnews published nearly a half-dozen allegations of sexism, racism, and bullying under his leadership at the museum.
“In accepting Mark’s resignation, the board agreed it was time for a change in leadership that represents an opportunity to create a new direction for the museum as we build a new organizational culture for the future,” wrote board president Drew Engles in an email to museum staff. “The board and I acknowledge this has been a difficult time for all of us.”
Less than two weeks ago, Engles defended Masuoka’s tenure and claimed that the museum had been “inaccurately criticized” for its handling of complaints outlined in an anonymous 2019 letter written by approximately one-third of the institution’s employees, which focused on the actions of the former director and another senior administrator, Jennifer Shipman, who left the museum in August.
In April, Akron employees told ARTnews that administrators retaliated against those who raised concerns about leadership. Of the 27 employees who anonymously wrote the letter of complaint, only one remains employed by the Akron Museum, albeit on a part-time basis; the others have either resigned or been fired or laid off during the Covid-19 shutdown. Reacting to the letter’s allegations, Akron’s board of directors hired the law firm Kastner Westman & Wilkins, which investigated the claims and found the majority of them to have merit, according to current and former employees who were interviewed by the firm.
Masuoka’s resignation comes after weeks of pressure from public officials and donors. Earlier this month, the city’s deputy mayor encouraged anyone with discrimination claims to file with the Akron Civil Rights Commission. And Richard Rogers, whose family has donated more than $2 million to the museum, called for the director’s ouster in a letter, which also claimed that the board “ignored the pleas of their staff and advice from past funders and trustees” resulting in “ruined careers, departure of talent, rock bottom morale, flight of donors, and sullying of the museum’s impeccable reputation.”
The Akron Art Museum board plans to establish a search committee composed of its own members to find a replacement for Masuoka. In the meantime, Jon Fiume, a businessman and former trustee, will take the reins of the embattled institution.
“The museum is destroyed right now,” Douglas Haslinger, a major donor to the museum, told ARTnews. He estimated that his family, whose name adorns the Akron institution’s galleries, has given more than $5 million over the years. But now, Haslinger says he is frustrated to see how the museum is handling reports of mismanagement. “Mark has been unfairly portrayed. As a manager, everyone has their sins,” he added. “The board is pressed in a hard spot. They really liked what Mark was doing for the museum, but on the other hand, there has been too much controversy and bad press.”
But for current and former employees, news of Masuoka’s departure comes as a sign of relief. “I am hopeful that the museum has a bright future ahead, but to be honest, I have reservations because there are still a lot of changes that need to happen within the museum,” said Chrissy Marquardt, who resigned in March after executives announced layoffs that she believed targeted staff who had written the 2019 letter calling for the director’s removal. (A museum spokesperson characterized the allegation that certain employees were targeted following the letter as being “flatly inaccurate.”)
“I am sad that there is about to be all this change without me there,” she added. “I wish nothing but a positive outcome for the museum and the community.”