The Philadelphia Museum of Art (Adam Jones/Flickr)

After Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) employees publicly voiced concerns about a culture of abuse and mishandled sexual misconduct complaints, the museum hired an external consulting firm to assess its workplace environment. The results of the examination, shared with staff in an online meeting on Tuesday, July 28, paint a grim picture that implicates all levels of the museum’s leadership.

The assessment, conducted by New York company VallotKarp Consulting, is based on interviews and focus group sessions with PMA staff. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the staff interviews show the employees’ great mistrust in the senior management’s public commitments to improve the museum’s work environment, increase accountability, and bolster staff diversity.

The PMA’s administration came under public scrutiny earlier this year after investigative reports publicized allegations of sexual misconduct against its former assistant director of interpretation, Joshua Helmer, and accusations of physical and verbal abuse against the museum’s previous director of retail, James A. Cincotta. VallotKarp did not investigate these allegations.

Adam Rizzo, a museum educator at PMA, told the Inquirer that the Tuesday presentation painted “a pretty bleak picture of the culture of the museum.”

“It wasn’t an enjoyable thing to hear, but it [was] true to what was going on in our lived experience,” Rizzo said. “There’s very little confidence in senior management to provide a safe workplace.”

PMA’S board chair, Leslie Anne Miller, told the Inquirer that the museum has taken some concrete steps to address the workers’ complaints, including a decision to establish an office of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access.

Miller added that museum plans to implement anti-harassment and bias-related training for all museum workers, including senior management. She also said that the human resources department will be staffed with additional workers.

“There’s understandable skepticism about the board’s commitment to change,” Miller said, “I would hope that we have gained some initial credibility.”

This all comes as the museum is acting to reduce 20% of its workforce (more than 100 employees) via a combination of furloughs and voluntary separation agreements.

Against this backdrop, workers at the PMA are undergoing a mail-in union election to determine whether they will join Philadelphia’s bargaining unit AFSCME District Council 47. The election results will be announced on August 6.

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...