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Detroit Institute of Arts board members resign in dispute over director

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Detroit – Six members of the board of directors of the Detroit Institute of Arts have resigned to object to the retention of museum director Salvador Salort-Pons.

The resignations from the 54-member elected board met with measured response from the DIA and a targeted response from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who praised the former directors for “taking a fundamental stance against workplace harassment and insular management styles “.

A seventh director has resigned due to professional obligations, the DIA said, while a member of the non-voting retired board member has also resigned.

Salort-Pons, director of DIA since 2015, has been under attack since last summer for his leadership style and an alleged ethical violation associated with the loan of an El Greco painting by his father-in-law.

In a report to the board in November, made known earlier this month through a secret tapping of the meeting, current and former museum employees described Salort-Pons as “unpredictable, autocratic, condescending, intolerant of dissent and without clear and effective communication”.

Board chairman Eugene Gargaro Jr. told The Detroit News on Monday that the resignation came after the board’s 19-member executive committee decided to continue to monitor Salort-Pons’ performance using methods that were passed prior to the report. This committee included five of the departing members of the Board of Management.

“There was a consensus in favor of continuing the actions we took last year,” he said. “Those who were not in that consensus chose to step back to reflect their views.”

The departing are Anne Fredericks, Mary Ann Gorlin, Julie Rothstein, Suzanne Shank, Carol Walters and Celeste Watkins-Hayes as well as Marc Schwartz from the 32-member retired board member. The board member who gave unrelated reasons is Christine Sitek.

The departure of seven women left the board with 25 women and 22 men. Gargaro, who has been chairman for 19 years, said there were “no plans I can share” to fill the vacancies.

The messages left emails with comments from Fredericks and Watkins-Hayes. The other former members could not be reached immediately.

The latest revelations regarding Salort-Pons came in a report from the Washington, DC, law firm Crowell & Moring hired by the DIA after a nonprofit group called Whistleblower Aid committed alleged conflict of interest violations involving the El Greco .

According to DIA, Crowell & Moring found no problem borrowing the Dallas businessman Alan M. May’s painting, which in theory could increase in value after being hung in a prestigious museum.

Other results were less positive for the director of the museum. As the board heard in November and The News reported this month, the report said Salort-Pons is taking revenge on employees who disagree with him and violate federal law by hiring applicants based solely on race or gender .

The report also found that women in leadership positions have left the museum more often than men over the past five years.

Evans told The News, “These board members sent a strong message that complaints from women DIA employees must be taken seriously by the museum’s management and board of directors. I am proud that these board members stood behind the women who made credible allegations of retribution, sexism, cultural insensitivity, and a leadership culture inconsistent with the mission and goals of the DIA. “

The News reported in August that in the museum’s latest employee satisfaction survey, those who agree or strongly agree with the statement, “The DIA Offers a Culture That I Can Thrive in” fell from 72% in 2016 to 53% next Year.

This was followed by an anonymous communication in July from an apparent group of past and current employees called DIA Staff Action. The group described a “hostile” work environment and administration that rejects women and people of color.

In an email to staff on March 19, Gargaro described the recording of the board meeting as “unethical.”

An email to the board received from The News on Monday described efforts to identify and recommend solutions to the serious problems we are currently grappling with.

The DIA board has created a new role as liaison officer for the board’s employee relations, set up a confidential hotline and created a “performance plan” for Salort-Pons, which was reviewed and approved by the executive committee and the director in mid-February.

The Executive Committee has met twice in the past two weeks, Gargaro wrote.

“I also spoke to Salvador, members of the museum’s senior management group, department heads, department members and numerous other employees so that ALL segments of our DIA family could be heard, especially those whose voices are not always in the foreground.” The email said.

“We are deeply grateful for those who contacted our Board Employee Relations Liaison via the confidential hotline and included these perspectives in our discussions. I have shared much of this advice with the members of our Executive Committee. “

On Friday, the Executive Committee met for an “open discussion on our existing plan to address all issues raised,” the email said.

“While the board reached some consensus, some board members still disagreed with the majority of the executive committee and decided to resign.”

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