In an internal all-staff meeting today, Neal Benezra announced that he will step down from his role as Director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) after 19 years at the museum, a current worker told Hyperallergic.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Benezra will formally leave the museum once a new director is hired and plans to assist in the search process.
During his tenure, Benezra led the museum’s 2013-2016 expansion, which more than doubled its exhibition space, and spearheaded acquisition projects like the Campaign for Art, adding more than 3,000 gifts of modern and contemporary artworks to the museum.
But the move comes after a tumultuous year at the Bay Area institution and trails the recent resignations of several high-ranking employees. The museum has been criticized for its sweeping layoffs and furloughs during the coronavirus pandemic and accused of fostering a culture of racism and structural inequities. As SFMOMA faced a projected $7 million deficit, workers denounced high executive salaries, including Benezra’s.
In May, while Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, the museum came under scrutiny after deleting a comment from a Black employee, Taylor Brandon, on its Instagram post featuring a Glenn Ligon artwork. (Benezra issued an apology after the incident.) Months later, former senior curator Gary Garrels resigned following backlash for a controversial comment about collecting art by white men.
In an interview with the Chronicle, Benezra says that his decision to step down preceded last year’s events.
“Succession planning is good governance, and it’s something that the board leaders and I have been talking about since the fall of 2019. This was not a sudden decision we came to,” Benezra told the Chronicle.