DIA says probe found no wrongdoing in art loan, but whistleblower attorneys call for more transparency

Oct 15, 2020 at 10:10 am
click to enlarge DIA says probe found no wrongdoing in art loan, but whistleblower attorneys call for more transparency

An independent investigation into a whistleblower complaint over an art loan at the Detroit Institute of Arts has concluded, clearing the museum of wrongdoing — according to the museum.

In a statement released Wednesday, the DIA said that an "exhaustive" three-month investigation by Washington, D.C.-based law firm Crowell & Moring wrapped up, and its findings were presented to the DIA's board of directors, as well as various internal committees at the museum.

"The investigation found that the Board Chair and Director acted in all respects with the best interests of the DIA in mind and did not find that they or any employee or volunteer at the DIA engaged in any misconduct related to the allegations included in the whistleblower complaint," the statement read. "There was no finding of any intention to mislead or hide information, nor was there any finding of any conflict of interest, violation of DIA policy or violation of applicable law."

The museum said that the firm did note "possible improvements to DIA processes and policies," however. "The proposed changes are largely intended to help avoid appearances of conflicts of interest and to clarify potential policy ambiguities," the statement said. "Over the coming months, the DIA's Professional Practices Committee will complete a review of all such practices and policies with the intention of making recommendations to the Board that would result in the DIA being a national leader in establishing best practices in these areas."

A spokeswoman said the museum had no further comment beyond that statement. But John N. Tye, founder and CEO of Whistleblower Aid, which represents the DIA whistleblowers, says that more transparency is needed.

“Neither Whistleblower Aid nor its clients, who are current and former DIA employees, were contacted by Crowell & Moring during the course of what DIA describes as an 'exhaustive' investigation," Tye said in a statement. "Furthermore, the resulting report is not being released to the public. These are sure signs that DIA is not serious about addressing the conflicts of interest disclosed by our clients."

At issue is the loan of an El Greco painting owned by Alan May — who happens to be the father-in-law of DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons. Loaning a work of art to a world-class museum like the DIA can increase its value. The whistleblowers allege proper protocols were not followed to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.

"Here's what we know and have established. DIA director Salvador Salort-Pons made a sweetheart deal with his wealthy art collector father-in-law, Alan May, to show his El Greco and — not for the first time — provide restoration services," Tye continued. "Salort-Pons and DIA chair Eugene Gargaro, who is friendly with May, both failed to follow clear, written board guidelines on avoiding conflicts of interest."

Tye calls for more transparency from the DIA board.

"DIA board members know what's going on here, and they apparently don't care," he said. "The unserious investigation and triumphant press release from DIA do not instill confidence that complaints about conflicts of interest, equity, and workplace culture are being taken seriously. The demand for change and accountability will need to come from the community itself."

The DIA also came under fire this summer when employees alleged a toxic workplace, including instances of racial insensitivity. The DIA says it is engaged with Crowell & Moring as part of a separate investigation on that matter, which is still ongoing.

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