Firing of Minneapolis Institute of Art of Curator Prompts Accusations of Toxic Work Environment - The World News

Firing of Minneapolis Institute of Art of Curator Prompts Accusations of Toxic Work Environment

The recent firing of a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) has prompted accusations the museum has become “a toxic environment for people of color” under its director, Katherine Luber.

Bob Cozzolino was fired from his position at MIA as Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings on January 9. Cozzolino, who had a garnered praise for spotlighting underrepresented artists, told local media that his dismissal was part of a larger trend of changes made by Luber.

“There were some things that I experienced that lots of other people at Mia experienced, including being marginalized for speaking up for equity issues,” Cozzolino told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which first reported the news. “People who were doing equity work were considered activists or radical, instead of how the culture of the field should be.”

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Zun wine vessel in the shape of an owl, 13th-12th century BCE, bronze.

In response to Cozzolino’s firing, more than 450 members of the city’s art community signed an open letter of support. The signers included acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch and Minnesota artist Dyani White Hawk, one of the recipients of the McArthur “genius” grant last year.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn of the way his contributions to the museum and our community were dismissed,” White Hawk told MPR News.

An Instagram account claiming to represent current and former MIA employees, @reimagine_mia, also started posting on February 21.

“It’s performative DEAI theater, but behind the scenes Mia is making it a toxic environment for people of color,” OPEIU representative Cesar Montufar told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Luber told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune it was “unfortunate” and “so not true” that Cozzolino’s dismissal had been tied to allegations about DEI work stopping at the museum in 2020 or not happening, pointing to the hiring of Virajita Singh in 2022 as its first chief diversity and inclusion officer.

Luber also denied accusations the museum was a toxic work environment and said it was a normal for an organization with so many hourly employees to have regular turnover each year.

MPR News also talked to Anniessa Antar, “an activation specialist” at Mia who was hired in 2019 and left in 2021. Antar worked as the museum’s coordinator for MASS Action, a nationwide effort to help transform cultural institutions into more equitable and inclusive spaces.

“As a person of color in the space doing equity work, working to really break down silos and trying to involve as many people as possible, the work was met with constant blockades,” Antar said.

On February 21, the museum published a three-page statement online about its DEI and accessibility efforts. It included statistics about its staff of more than 250 people, including 27.9% identifying as people of color; expanding its collection in the areas of Art & Disabilities, Native American Art, Indigenous Futurism, African American Art, Japanese Art and Latin American Art; as well as “hiring a curator of Latin American art and securing endowed funding to support this position over the long-term”.

A museum spokesperson acknowledged a press inquiry from ARTnews but did not respond to questions about Cozzolino’s firing, the institution’s statement on its DEI efforts, or the union’s accusations.

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