Workers at the Philadelphia Museum are on strike for the fifteenth day. (photo Tim Tiebout, courtesy PMA Union)

As its workers headed into their fifteenth day on strike this Sunday, October 9, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) announced it was disabling comments on its Instagram and Twitter posts. For weeks, the institution’s accounts have been flooded with criticism of the museum and support for its workers, who unionized in 2020 but have yet to negotiate a contract.

A PMA post announcing the closure of its comment section cited its “responsibility to maintain civil discourse.” “While we are committed to offering access to our building and our collection online, due to the volume of inappropriate posts — including profane language — we have decided to disable comments at this time,” the PMA said. The museum told Hyperallergic that its message on social media explains its position and added that it has not deleted comments.

PMA has feigned normalcy on social media: Its feeds remind visitors that the museum is still open, highlight notable works in the collection, and advertise its upcoming Matisse show. But users have not allowed the museum to ignore the workers picketing outside its doors, and hundreds of critical opinions overran PMA’s comment sections before the museum shut them down.

“You should come to the table and negotiate a fair contract with @PMA_Union and your striking workers,” reads a comment from user @havpac5 on an October 6 Twitter post explaining how Modernist painter Santiago Rusiñol often met Pablo Picasso for “lively discussions.”

“What do you think Rusiñol and Picasso would be discussing right now????” the user added.

A post from October 7 advertising the Matisse show. The post was flooded with negative comments. (via Instagram, screenshot Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

“Can you please stop embarrassing Philly and Matisse?” reads a comment by user @plussizechihuahua on a PMA Instagram video from October 7, the last post before the museum announced that it was silencing commenters.

“I’m disappointed, I think it’s gross, but I’m not surprised,” PMA Union President Adam Rizzo told Hyperallergic. In August, the PMA Union filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge against the museum and then voted, with a 99% margin, to authorize a strike. After holding a one-day warning strike on September 16, the workers began striking indefinitely on September 26. Still, union and museum leadership have yet to agree on healthcare and pay.

“It is entirely museum management’s fault that there is no goodwill left in the city of Philadelphia for the art museum,” Rizzo said. He added that community support for the workers, on the other hand, has been strong: Museum-goers have canceled their memberships, donated to the strike fund, and refused to cross the picket line.

Workers have yet to agree with museum leadership on economic issues. (photo Tim Tiebout, courtesy PMA Union)
PMA Workers on strike outside of the museum. (photo Tim Tiebout, courtesy PMA Union)

Yet the museum says it is moving forward with its Matisse in the 1930s exhibition, slated to open on October 20. With art handlers on strike, the PMA called in outside contractors to hang the show. Twitter comments responding to an exhibition announcement criticized the hiring of “scabs” and raised concerns over the safety of the art. (A photograph reposted by the union appears to show an art handler not wearing gloves.)

The museum will host the opening celebration for the Matisse exhibition on Saturday, October 22, and Rizzo said PMA Union workers will picket the event. “We’re planning to stay out there as long as we need to,” Rizzo said.

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.