MOCAD fires executive director following toxic workplace allegations

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click to enlarge The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Updated 8:22 p.m.:

Elysia Borowy-Reeder tells Metro Times she learned of her termination from MOCAD in a press release. Her statement:

I was deeply disappointed to learn this morning from a press release that I was terminated from my contract by the MOCAD Board of Directors after an investigation I disagree with, and was not interviewed for. Transparency is important, and the investigation should be disclosed to the public. Over the past 8 years I have always worked hard for MOCAD, and I am extremely proud of my accomplishments. The institution was in serious debt when I started. Now there is an operating surplus. Annual attendance is up from 12,000 to 70,000. I have only received positive performance reviews and was given a raise just weeks ago. I have tried to conduct myself as a manager and leader so that my work is in line with my values, including acting on my deep commitment to diversity and inclusion through outreach, programming and engagement with artists of colors, often without support. In a city that is 80% people of color, only 6 of 35 Board members are people of color. We have to do better. I take the workplace allegations that have been made to heart, and am profoundly sorry for any harm I caused. I am sincerely committed to the dignity of racial justice, to healing, and accountability.

Originally posted at 12:37 p.m., Wednesday, July 29:

Elysia Borowy-Reeder is out as the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit after dozens of employees came forward demanding her removal. According to a press release, the termination is effective immediately.

Earlier this month, past and current MOCAD employees calling themselves the "MOCAD Resistance" signed a letter calling for Borowy-Reeder to leave the role, citing "racist micro-aggressions, mis-gendering, violent verbal outbursts, misrepresentation of community partnerships, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff" under her leadership.

In a statement, the museum's board chair Elyse Foltyn said:

The Board’s vote to remove our Executive Director is a painful but first step of a course correct for MOCAD. We have tried to deliver on diversity, equity and inclusion since our inception. However, it is clear we need to do more, better and faster. MOCAD’s plan of action going forward will affect our hiring and employment practices, artist relationships, internal communications and the Board’s by-laws, which define how we operate. We want to return to being a platform for everyone in the community and a venue to exhibit sometimes controversial art that might otherwise not be seen but inspires conversations. MOCAD’s board is excited about this new course and is eager to be an agent for change in Detroit and in the art world. I am confident that as we move past this, MOCAD will become stronger and serve our community better than ever. That is our mission.

MOCAD Resistance called for the museum to do a national search for a new executive director, with special consideration for candidates who are Black or people of color. They also call on the creation of an employee-elected board member to represent employee interests and more racial diversity on the board itself, among others demands.

A spokesman for the museum says it has not yet selected a new executive director.

Down the street at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a group of employees calling themselves "DIA Staff Action" are demanding the ouster of director Salvador Salort-Pons by the end of August, citing a controversy surrounding the museum loaning an El Greco painting from Salort Pons's father-in-law, as well as alleged instances of racial insensitivity at the museum.

Both stories were covered in last week's cover story.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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