Security guards at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, do not feel particularly secure in their workplace, an extensive Washington Post report revealed this week. In comments and documents gathered by arts reporter Peggy McGlone, 17 current and former guards at the NGA reported instances of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, which they say have gone unaddressed by the institution. Guards say they have no opportunity to rise within the museum hierarchy, which in turn protects inept managers and supervisors.
“They treat us like we’re bad people,” Albertus-Hugo Van den Bogaard, a 65-year-old Army veteran who started working at the NGA 16 months ago, told the Post. “People are intimidated. They will not make much noise.”
The guards who spoke to McGlone allege that their complaints about colleagues or supervisors are typically ignored or swept under the rug, and say they’ve been reprimanded for attempts to call the problems to the attention of executives. One guard was reprimanded by his supervisor after complaining that the same supervisor had made a scheduling error; a female guard said that, after complaining that a supervisor had used sexually inappropriate language, she was put in a training class led by that same supervisor. Another guard was told that any employee who spoke to the media could be fired.
The museum’s spokesperson, Anabeth Guthrie, told McGlone: “The gallery does not tolerate retribution against an employee for having raised concerns and has strict policies in place to prohibit retaliation.”
However, the report suggests that the allegedly suppressed complaints by museum guards reflect fundamental divisions within the National Gallery of Art. The guards fall under the umbrella of the Office of Protection Services, which accounts of about a third of the institution’s workforce. They are federal employees, but under the NGA’s unusual hybrid structure, many of the institution’s executives are not: they are paid with privately-raised funds, rather than federal appropriations. In 2016, guards earned an average salary of less than $50,000, while the museum’s top five earners made an average of $697,185. According to one guard, quoted anonymously by the Post, “there are two sets of rules — rules for them and rules for us.”
The NGA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comments on the Post report.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.