Read the MCA’s Statement on Opening
Like many museums across the country, the MCA has received a number of petitions over the last few months demanding that we take action against racial injustice and opposing our decision to reopen.
We are an institution that is built on a platform of not merely allowing but encouraging freedom of speech and provocative and productive ideas. We cannot fulfill our mission as an organization if we are not willing and able to welcome and consider all voices and all points of view.
So, what are our goals? What will ensure that the MCA continues to exist—long after we are gone—so that through art it can provide a forum for passionate and often dissenting opinions and ideas about how to create a society that is inclusive and equitable for all? And how do we turn those ideas into constructive conversations, and then into action? For without action, there is no progress.
Our immediate path is clear.
Our goal is to turn the MCA into an anti-racist institution.
Our goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment for all those who choose to work here.
Our goal is to ensure the long-term viability of the MCA so that it can meet the first two goals.
Each of these goals sounds simple. Everyone reading this knows that they are not. They are subject to interpretation depending on one’s own experiences and perspectives. Simply put, there are different opinions about what determines if an organization is anti-racist and different beliefs about what constitutes a safe and supportive environment in a pandemic. And there are many variables that affect any organization’s long-term viability.
No one person has all the answers that will enable the MCA to meet these goals. We need the talent, expertise, experience, and humanity of many, many people. We need to share divergent points of view and expansive thinking. And we need to listen. Not in order to agree with each other, but in order to understand each other.
Listening is a rare gift. I do not claim to have mastered it, though in times of great stress, I find I value it more than ever.
To those of you who have felt the need to publish your concerns about the actions of the MCA in public-facing petitions, I understand that you have felt unheard through the practices and structures that exist within the MCA for its staff, and I am sorry for that. Ultimately, it is through the close collaboration of the current staff and leadership of the MCA that trust will be strengthened and the kind of meaningful progress that matters to us all will be made.
The museum has several existing channels for addressing any issue and concern that is raised, by anyone, at any time. Your issue can be about something that just affects you, or it can be about the museum as a whole.
I want you to ask questions. I am urging every department head to speak with their staff and encourage you to raise your questions, and I am holding them accountable. If we have answers we will share them. If we do not have answers, we will share what we know. Solutions may take longer than any of us want, but we can be transparent about the process, where we are, and what steps we are taking. These exchanges will be open conversations designed to make all of us better informed and better listeners.
I want you to have high expectations of where you work, as I hold our employees in high esteem. Much has already been done toward our goal of making the MCA an anti-racist institution. At the end of this note you will find an addendum that lists numerous actions and practices that have been put in place over the last few months.
Turning words into action is the only way to make progress. You should expect actions that exceed rhetoric from the MCA’s senior leaders, for unless we are as good as our word, there can be no trust. Here is one example of why I think that trust is warranted.
Over the last several months we have achieved goals that most other museums have not been able to meet. At a time when national unemployment levels approach those of the Great Depression, we have retained all of our staff without layoffs or furloughs. These are substantive actions taken toward a stated goal of maintaining our full staff for as long as possible.
At the core of our DNA, we are a public-facing institution. Without public engagement, we have no future. We are an art museum, but in the matter of a global health crisis we are guided only by science. We closed on March 13 before we were required to, and we are reopening later than we were given permission to.
I completely understand the reluctance of some to return to work. Now that we have been given permission to reopen by public health and local government officials, we believe that it is critical that we remain open. Based on the learnings from last week’s soft opening, we will welcome the public back today. I am absolutely confident that we have placed the health, safety, and well-being of every person—staff and visitors alike—as our highest priority, and we will continue to do so. Mask-wearing is mandatory for all staff and visitors. Social distancing practices are fully in place, as are facility cleaning protocols and hand sanitizer stations. The current public health and scientific evidence supports that these steps minimize the risk of infection from COVID-19, both in the museum as well as on our city’s public transportation.
Art museums are a beacon for many people who seek inspiration and healing. Museums also need to be constantly challenged and should be in a perpetual state of evolution.
The road to an open, welcoming, and equitable society is neither straight nor smooth. But, as the person ultimately responsible for the actions of the MCA, I intend to take all the steps that are necessary to ensure that we are helping to create that road, not merely traveling along it.
During the stay-at-home order, we actively took steps toward greater racial equity and accessibility by engaging in Enrich Chicago’s anti-racism workshops, and writing website descriptions of artworks for people with vision impairment, using the open-source software Coyote.
We began an Anti-Racism Task Force of elected staff members and had our first meeting this week where we openly discussed our challenges.
Our Commons Online now supports and elevates BIPOC platforms and organizations.
Working through the Strategic Plan we began in 2019, our staff has thoughtfully reconsidered our entire exhibition, performance, program, and collection plans through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion to help redefine our field and inspire our audiences.
We are working to encourage more cultural philanthropy through a network of organizations that serve our creative community.