Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit Terminates Director After Allegations of Racism and Sexism

After current and former employees raised allegations of racism and sexism at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the institution has terminated its executive director, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, who was placed on leave by the museum’s board earlier this month.

Elyse Foltyn, the MOCAD board chair, said in a statement, “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.”

The MOCAD board brought in outside counsel to investigate the allegations against Borowy-Reeder, who became director in 2013. In a release announcing her termination, the board said the investigation found that Borowy-Reeder’s “leadership fell short of its goals for diversity, inclusivity, and a healthy work environment.”

Reached by phone, Borowy-Reeder declined to comment.

ARTnews first reported news of Borowy-Reeder being placed on leave on July 8. That decision came days after MOCAD reopened following a coronavirus shutdown that lasted several months. The allegations against Borowy-Reeder were made public by MOCAD Resistance, a group that includes former employees and members of the museum’s teen council.

In an open letter posted on July 3, more than 70 former MOCAD employees accused Borowy-Reeder of “racial microaggressions, violent verbal outbursts, retaliations, misrepresentation of community partnerships, and tokenization of marginalized artists.” The letter came with various demands, including ones focused on the museum’s relationship with its local community and the structure of its board. After the letter was issued, the New Red Order artist group postponed a planned MOCAD showing, saying that they would not hold it until all staff demands were met. (According to the release issued on Wednesday, that exhibition is still listed as “temporarily postponed.”)

The MOCAD Resistance open letter had been prompted by the resignation of Tizziana Baldenebro, who was a Ford Foundation Fellow at the museum. In a prior ARTnews report, Baldenebro said Borowy-Reeder’s “outright racist behavior” and “exploitative labor practices” prompted her resignation.

On Wednesday, Baldenebro told ARTnews, “We appreciate that this step has been taken. This is the first of many steps in reforming MOCAD. We look forward to hearing how the remaining action items are addressed.”

Claire Voon contributed reporting.

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