Fallout continues from Joshua Helmer‘s departure from his job as executive director of Pennsylvania’s Erie Art Museum. Hundreds of current and former staff members at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), Helmer’s workplace prior to the Erie, signed a petition in support of the women who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Helmer in a New York Times article. The signatories call for a structural change in the museum’s sexual harassment policy.
Helmer worked at the PMA as assistant director of interpretation from 2014 to February 2018. During that period, he engaged in several romantic relationships with women in the workplace in violation of the museum’s policy while dangling promises of professional advancement and favorable treatment. But the revelations brought by reporting by the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer “barely scratch the surface” of abuses committed by Helmer, the signers say.
“Former and current staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art listed below wish to express solidarity with our current and former colleagues who so bravely spoke out in the New York Times and those in Erie who did the same,” the petition, which has garnered 365 signatures as of this writing, reads. “We believe their stories and admire their courage.”
The statement will be shared publicly with the hashtag #MuseumMeToo
“[T]his is not an isolated incident unique to one institution but endemic to the field,” the petition adds. “We call for greater accountability from the institution for which we work and about which we care so deeply.”
Helmer was pushed out of the Erie’s leadership on Monday amid mounting calls for his ouster. An online petition calling on the Erie to part ways with its director gained 2,700 signatures over the weekend.
“Structural change is required to ensure that abusers aren’t enabled, employees feel safe reporting abuse, and no one fears retaliation for coming forward,” the PMA signers say. “Museums can and should do better.”
Update 1/16/2020 3:30pm EST: On Wednesday, January 15, two prominent Philadelphia officials, Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, joined the calls on the PMA to review its sexual harassment policy. Both hold ex officio positions on the museum’s board.
“The [Kenney] Administration did express to PMA leadership that it should review and strengthen its policies regarding anti-fraternization and sexual harassment, and require training for all staff,” a spokesperson on behalf of the mayor told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Mayor’s office did not comment on PMA’s handling of the case saying it’s not familiar with the specific circumstances of the accusations.
A spokesperson on behalf of Clarke said that the City Council President “[A]grees with strengthening policies, providing both better training and improving means for individuals to report.”
In a statement issued this week, PMA’s CEO Timothy Rub said, “We will be engaging outside consultants to conduct a close review of our workplace environment, our policies and programs, including training activities so we understand how we can be better in the future.”
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