Last year brought reports of racism at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where a school field trip unexpectedly became the subject of national controversy. The museum investigated the allegations days after they were made and said it would change its protocols and guidelines for frontline staff in response. But the aftereffects of the controversy have not faded, and now, almost one year after the scandal, the MFA Boston has announced it will launch a diversity and inclusion initiative.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey revealed on Tuesday that her office had worked with the museum to help start a new fund intended to bring the MFA Boston into greater engagement with local communities of color. Some $500,000 has been appropriated to launch the fund, which comes alongside the implementation of new anti-harassment and discrimination guidelines for the museum’s staff.
“We have learned a great deal during the past year and through this process, and while we have more to learn and more work to do, together we will succeed,” Matthew Teitelbaum, the director of the MFA Boston, said in a statement. “Whether you walk through the doors of the Museum every day, every week, once a year, or just once, everyone is welcome at the MFA.”
In May 2019, a teacher from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, claimed that, when she brought her students on a field trip to the museum, MFA Boston staff members treated her seventh-graders in racist ways. Students of color were allegedly told “no food, no drink, and no watermelon” were allowed in the galleries, and the teacher claimed that the children were followed through the galleries by a security guard. When the MFA Boston investigated the claims, it said it could not confirmed that the comment had been made based on security footage, but it apologized to the students. Two visitors accused of having made derogatory comments about students were banned from the museum’s galleries.
As part of the newly announced fund, the museum must now retain an external consultant focused on diversity and inclusion, implement additional unconscious bias training for staff, update its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, and issue biannual reports related to the initiative. The MFA Boston must also now publish a Community Engagement Action Plan that offers information on programming intended to reach schools primarily serving students of color.
“This agreement lays out processes which can serve as a model for cultural institutions in our ongoing collective work to build diversity and inclusivity in Boston and well beyond,” Healey said in a statement. “I am grateful to all of our partners who worked with our office on this effort.”