The Museum of Fine Arts is banning two patrons the museum determined made racist comments to students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy as result of its investigation into allegations of racism during students’ visit to the museum earlier this week.
“The MFA has determined that Museum visitors made racist comments to DLA students on two separate occasions. We have identified the patrons who made the disparaging remarks and revoked their membership, banning them from the Museum’s grounds. We will serve them with a no-trespass cease-and-desist notification,” the museum said in a statement released Friday.
Students and teachers who visited the MFA midweek said they were met with racist comments and felt that they were being followed by security, teacher Marvelyn Lamy told the Herald.
The MFA investigated the incident, including reviewing “extensive video footage, conducting in-depth interviews with staff and visitors, and collaborating with the school,” and released their results Friday evening.
“I’ve just spoken to Christopher Coblyn and Arturo Forrest at the school to apologize again on behalf of the MFA. I have requested an opportunity to meet with students at the school next week,” said MFA Director Matthew Teitelbaum. “These young people left the Museum feeling disrespected, harassed and targeted because of the color of their skin, and that is unacceptable. This is a fundamental problem that we will address as an institution, both with immediate steps and long-term commitments. I am deeply saddened that we’ve taken something away from these students that they will never get back.”
Lamy said the group was told “no food, no drink, no watermelon” by a museum employee when they arrived. Watermelon is considered a racist stereotype against African Americans.
The museum said the employee “recalled relaying as part of standard operating procedures that ‘no food, no drink and no water bottles’ were allowed in the galleries.”
“There is no way to definitively confirm or deny what was said or heard in the galleries. Regardless, the MFA is committed to providing additional training for all frontline staff on how to engage with incoming school groups about policies and guidelines,” the museum said.
The MFA also said its galleries and exhibitions were patrolled by “13 separate security guards who were all stationed in designated areas.”
During the students’ visit, “guards went on and off break and occasionally overlapped as they moved from one area to another. Based on surveillance footage, it is understandable that, because of this movement, the students felt followed. That was not our intention. It is unacceptable that they felt racially profiled, targeted and harassed,” the museum said.
The museum said it will offer additional training for guards in how to engage with visitors and patrol galleries. It also said it is working with outside experts on “continued mandatory unconscious bias training, conflict resolution training, and sexual harassment training for all staff.”
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