Jill Snyder, who has led the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland for 23 years, has resigned from her post. Her departure came suddenly, less than two weeks after the museum weathered a controversy involving an allegedly censored show of works focused on police brutality by artist Shaun Leonardo.
In a statement, Snyder made no mention of that controversy, however, and instead insisted that her departure came amid a growing understanding in her field that museums must diversify their leadership in order to stay contemporary. “Through recent programming, MoCA has demonstrated a desire to work in the territory of inclusion, equity, and community,” she said. “Now it is time to select a progressive and innovative leader for the next phase in our history who will carry forward this work with new passion. For that new leader to have a seat at the table, I willingly give up my chair.”
The Leonardo controversy, first reported by the New York Times earlier this month, centered on the museum’s calling off an exhibition after Black activists in the Cleveland region alleged that the works in it, featuring police officers killing Black and Latino boys and men, were performative and exploitative. Leonardo, who identifies as Afro-Latino, claimed that the museum had not consulted him on its community outreach, and told the Times, “What has become evident to me is that after grave mishandling of communication regarding the exhibition, institutional white fragility led to an act of censorship.” Snyder subsequently issued an apology to Leonardo and the show’s curator, John Chaich.
The majority of Snyder’s term at the museum was praised, however. She joined the museum in 1996, when it was still called the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, and helped bring the Kunsthalle-style museum into the eye of people beyond the Ohio city. In 2019, the museum began offering free admission, which Snyder said was part of a larger attempt to diversify the institution’s audience, staff, and exhibition program.
“We are taking what we hope is a noble approach that has a high quotient of humility, which is that we are really listening to what is going on in our community and looking structurally at our organization, meaning the staffing, the ways in which we are defining visitor engagement, and also through our programmatic choices,” Snyder told ARTnews in 2019.
In its release, MoCA Cleveland said current deputy director Megan Lykins Reich would become interim executive director. The board will begin its search for the next director this summer. “In keeping with the ideals that she has articulated, members of our board are already involved in efforts for inclusion and equity in their careers and communities, and they have made these goals a priority at MoCA as well,” board president Larry Oscar said in a statement.