Art museum accused of racism names 1st director of inclusion

A report from The Mainichi.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, has appointed its first director of belonging and inclusion — the latest in a series of efforts to make amends for allegations of racism.

The museum on Thursday named Rosa Rodriguez-Williams to the senior post, saying she “will play a critical role in delivering on the MFA’s promise to be a museum for all of Boston.”

In 2019, the MFA was accused of racism after Black middle school students said they were harangued and mistreated on a class trip by other museum patrons and a staff member who allegedly told the children: “No food, no drink and no watermelon.”

Director Matthew Teitelbaum publicly apologized, banned two visitors, launched an internal investigation and hired a law firm led by a former state attorney general to conduct an independent review.

“Rosa’s deep experience and passion for equity and inclusion will be invaluable as we continue our important work in ensuring a true sense of belonging at the MFA,” he said in a statement.

The MFA, which is marking its 150th year in 2020, welcomed 1.2 million visitors from around the world each year before the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close in March.

One of America’s oldest and most prestigious museums, the MFA is home to half a million prominent works. It has been confronting its blind spots since two dozen seventh-graders, all students of color from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, suffered taunts during a May 2019 visit.

“This moment in time in our country reinforces the powerful opportunity that the MFA has to heal,” said Makeeba McCreary, the museum’s chief of learning and community engagement, who spent much of the past year holding roundtable discussions on inclusion and racial diversity.

Rodriguez-Williams, a Puerto Rico native, previously directed the Latinx Student Cultural Center at Northeastern University, promoting the recruitment, retention and development of Latinx and Latin American students.

She said Thursday she’s “honored and excited to be part of an institution that acknowledges its struggle with inclusion.”

“The MFA is rising up to the present moment with a desire to reimagine and reinvent itself with the goal of achieving an inclusive experience that represents the beauty of the diversity represented in every neighborhood in this city,” she said.

Earlier this year, the museum created a $500,000 fund devoted to promoting diversity as part of an agreement with the state of Massachusetts in the aftermath of the allegations.

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