A group of current and former employees working to denounce racism and sexism at the Guggenheim Museum is led by “disgruntled” white women who are “intimidating” employees of color to join their cause, sources told The Post.
The group, A Better Guggenheim, claims it is holding the museum “accountable for systemic racism and a toxic work environment.” Members, including a leader who was furloughed and was not hired back, want to force the resignation of the institution’s top executives.
But they have been accused of creating their own toxicity among the museum’s nearly 300 employees. Among the complaints are fears of having personal conversations and meetings taped by the group and uploaded to social media, the sources said.
“It feels sinister,” said an employee of the museum who did not want to be identified. “They are terrorizing employees and compromising the work that people are doing to address the issues, and diluting the real cause. It’s a joke that it’s called ‘A Better Guggenheim.’”
The Guggenheim employee told The Post that members of ABG have secretly recorded staff meetings without consent and posted them on social media. “A lot of people have been disgusted” by that, said the employee. “It’s just damaging to everyone.” The employee also said the group has exerted such “intense pressure” on employees to join their cause that some employees had been left in tears.
At least 169 former and current staffers signed a June 29 letter supporting the group when it called for “restorative justice” for a black guest curator who was allegedly mistreated by museum staff. But many stopped supporting the group when it demanded the “immediate” resignation of Director Richard Armstrong, Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Duggal and Chief Curator Nancy Spector, the employee said.
Many employees complained in emails to management that their initial support was being “repurposed” and used by the group to suggest that they have widespread support, a second source told The Post, adding that ABG currently consists of “half a dozen” current and former employees.
For months, ABG, which describes itself as a “collective” of past and present staff members of the museum, has posted numerous anonymous grievances on its Instagram page and website. Among the group’s leaders are Cassie Dagostino, a furloughed member of the Guggenheim’s communications staff who has not been hired back, and Caitlin Dover, the Guggenheim’s associate director of digital media, the employee told The Post.
Neither woman returned The Post’s calls and emails seeking comment. In an email to The Post, ABG said that “due to the museum’s record of retaliation” all of its members have chosen to remain anonymous.
In June, the group sent a letter to the Guggenheim’s board saying that the museum had mistreated Chaédria LaBouvier, the museum’s first black guest curator who organized a 2019 exhibition of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. LaBouvier called her experience working with the museum’s chief curator Nancy Spector “the most racist professional experience of my life” and accused the museum of co-opting her work in a series of June tweets.
In July, the museum hired an attorney to conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Basquiat show. The investigation is ongoing.
In August, after several meetings with its staff, the museum said it was committed to a two-year initiative to create a more equitable and inclusive working environment and to feature “programs and partnerships that amplify diverse voices and create shared authority,” according to the museum’s “Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Action Plan.” Their recommendations included creating partnerships with black colleges and universities to provide internships and other opportunities for students and graduates, and to establish a committee to review new acquisitions and exhibitions.
The diversity restructuring is coming amid a time of financial crisis for the museum. Last week, in a letter to staff announcing 24 job cuts (11% of staff), Armstrong called the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the museum “devastating to our finances.” He said that the museum’s income has decreased by $1.4 million per month since it closed on March 13, and that total losses are projected at just over $15 million for the year. At the time, the museum furloughed 92 staff members, although 62 have returned to work, a spokeswoman said.
Although the Guggenheim is scheduled to reopen on Oct. 3, it will only do so at 25% capacity in order to follow social-distancing rules. The museum, which has more than $92 million in endowment funds, received nearly $6 million in a federal bailout under the Paycheck Protection Program, according to public documents.
A spokeswoman for the museum declined comment on A Better Guggenheim.
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