The Philadelphia Museum of Art (photo by Mark Skrobola via Flickrstream)

In a town hall meeting on Wednesday, January 22, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s (PMA) CEO Timothy Rub offered his apology to staffers over the museum’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against its former employee, Joshua Helmer.

Helmer was recently discharged from his position as executive director of Pennsylvania’s Erie Art Museum after a New York Times exposé raised questions about his treatment of women who worked with him at the Erie and at the PMA, where he previously worked as assistant director of interpretation.

According to the Philidelphia Inquirer, about 200 of the museum’s over 500 employees attended Wednesday’s all-staff meeting, held at the museum’s Great Stair Hall. But details about what was said in the assembly are scarce as the museum denied reporters access to the event.

In a statement provided to Hyperallergic after the meeting, Rub said, “Following on the department meetings, today’s town hall was extremely important, and I know that actions speak louder than words. It is my firm commitment to do all that is necessary to address our issues head on, to ensure that this is a workplace in which people feel secure and fully supported.”

However, a museum staffer who spoke with the Inquirer said that Rub’s statement was terse and insufficient. “I hoped for strong policy statements that empower staff, like, ‘This is how we will respond consistently to reports of harassment,’ but I didn’t hear that,” Sarah Shaw, a museum educator who attended the meeting, said. She added that the museum leadership offered workers “apologies and admissions of failure, which seem like the bare-minimum first step.”

The meeting comes on the heels of a recent petition signed by hundreds of current and former staff members at the PMA. In the petition, the workers expressed their solidarity with the women who came forward with their stories and called for a “structural change” in the museum’s sexual misconduct policies.

“[T]his is not an isolated incident unique to one institution but endemic to the field,” the petition said. “We call for greater accountability from the institution for which we work and about which we care so deeply.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...