Whistleblowers Call for Removal of Detroit Institute of Arts Director and Chairman of the Board

Employees of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) have filed a whistleblower complaint about the director, president, and CEO of the DIA Salvador Salort-Pons and the DIA Chairman of the Board Eugene Gargaro Jr., according to Artnet News.

The complaint alleges that Salort-Pons and Gargaro “violated DIA applicable and Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD) ethics policies and IRS rules regarding two art loans from a trust controlled by Salort-Pons’ wife and father-in-law.” The display of such artwork on loan inside DIA could increase the Director’s family’s wealth, according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that despite Salort-Pons claim that the loan of the two paintings complied with DIA lending policies, the loan did not comply. In response to the complaint, a representative for the DIA note that the museum “has hired a nationally-respected law firm, with no prior relationship to the museum, to conduct an independent review of our policies that govern our art loan processes and related conservation services.”

This latest scandal adds to the media attention the DIA and Salort-Pons received this past month. On July 20, an anonymous group publicly called for Salort-Pons’ Removal. The group, calling itself DIA Staff Action (DIASA), is demanding that Salort-Pons be removed by August 31. “These demands are a direct response to the now well-reported hostile and chaotic work culture that has affected the quality and accessibility of the service offerings for DIA’s constituents,” according to the letter posted on Twitter.

Several former employees of the DIA have spoken up about their treatment, many of them detailing an environment that lacked cultural sensitivity and awareness. “I can say for myself that I saw racism and experienced misogyny nearly every day at the DIA,” former employee Jillian Reese told the Detroit Free Press. Andrea Montiel de Shuman detailed why she had to resign from the DIA in a Medium article, citing several instances in which the museum leadership acted in ways that devalued the voices and input of people of color. High rates of staff turnover and dissatisfaction have also been attributed to this hostile work environment.

Salort-Pons moved from Spain to the U.S. in 2004 and previously worked in the DIA’s European Art Department before becoming promoted to director in 2015. He has reportedly spoken often about diversity and inclusion, stating in a 2015 director’s letter, “I would like to walk into the museum’s offices and extraordinary galleries and see that the DIA has become the mirror of our diverse society. The benefits of diversity and inclusion — of everyone working together to consider different voices, perspectives, and backgrounds — are immense and waiting for us to embrace them.” He also “instituted a paid internship program at the museum” and “launched an initiative called Reflecting our Community,” both efforts centered on increasing diversity. However, former employees told the Detroit Free Press that they feel like these sentiments and actions were lacking in depth and mostly worked to service the museum’s public image.

Read The Detroit News article about this controversy.

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