Curator’s Termination Sparks Outrage at Minneapolis Institute of Art

MINNEAPOLIS — Curator Robert Cozzolino’s termination from the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) has develop into a flashpoint for union organizers and employees who’ve left the museum, citing what they are saying is a poisonous work surroundings and an absence of dedication by Director Katherine Luber to “the existing deeply engaged community of practice around inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) work,” in accordance with an open letter written by former staff members.

It’s one of two current letters supporting Cozzolino, the other signed by figures in Minnesota’s artwork neighborhood and past together with artist and filmmaker David Lynch, whose work Cozzolino has curated and written about. Concerns over his termination have been additionally voiced throughout a picket at the museum final week. 

Originally from Chicago, Cozzolino joined Mia in 2016 because the Patrick and Aimee Butler curator of work and was dismissed on January 9. According to Minnesota Public Radio, which first reported the story, the museum’s termination letter cited donor communications and claimed that Cozzolino had pursued acquisitions with out Mia vetting.

But union organizers and a bunch of former Mia employees concerned in fairness work at the museum say Cozzolino was terminated wrongfully and that the transfer is indicative of systemic points, together with a top-down mentality beneath Luber and a transfer away from progress on variety and inclusion.

In an interview with Hyperallergic, Cozzolino mentioned that in late 2021, he was instructed that he couldn’t communicate to 1 particular donor with out approval.

“There isn’t a written policy about how to work with this particular person, or donors in general, except for just ethics — not sharing secrets, not giving out sensitive information, which I don’t do,” Cozzolino mentioned, including that the donor in query seen the change. “They became annoyed with the process and expressed their annoyance — not with me.”

The former curator mentioned public outcry over his firing has been heartening, however that points with Mia transcend him. “I’m just one of many people who were pushed out or were terminated,” he mentioned. “It just felt like people who had high reputations in the field nationally could disappear — people started resigning without explanation in a day.” 

According to the open letter by former employees, “more than one hundred employees have departed since [Luber’s] arrival in January 2020.”

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for remark, Molly Lax, Mia’s media and public relations supervisor, mentioned the whole quantity of staff declined from 249 earlier than 2020 to 185 at the height of the pandemic “in part due to layoffs and buyouts, as was the case at many museums across the country.” “The museum has since restaffed to 250 employees, and annual turnover is between 15–20%, which is about average for museums and well below turnover in many other fields,” she mentioned.

According to Mia, Cozzolino was given a chance to deal with considerations previous to termination. After his departure, the union filed a grievance and started a public marketing campaign — an effort that Lax mentioned “seems like a ruse by the union to distract from the for-cause termination of Bob Cozzolino.” 

Among Cozzolino’s supporters at the museum is collector JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey, who just lately introduced a present of 100 drawings to Mia. In an announcement to Hyperallergic, she described Cozzolino as a curator who “lingers beneath the surface of the art objects he brings to public view.”

 “He has long been the champion of the unique, unsung, and overlooked artists,” Hickey mentioned.

Of word, Cozzolino curated Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art and arranged Artists Reflect: Contemporary Views on the American War, a companion exhibition to a touring present concerning the Vietnam War organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He additionally labored with Jill Ahlberg Yohe in collaboration with Native artists and communities for Reimagining Native/American Art

Cozzolino determined he needed to be half of the Mia union in June 2021, throughout a interval when employees members have been leaving with out discover or rationalization. “We were all terrified,” he mentioned.

Luber joined Mia in January of 2020 after beforehand directing the San Antonio Museum of Art, the place she made headlines for approving staffing cuts. Angela Olson, who labored in Mia’s training division from 2017 to 2022, instructed Hyperallergic that the administration shift was important. “The leadership team became very insular, very difficult to get through to,” Olson mentioned. “It was like, oh, is this a Fortune 500 company all of a sudden?” 

Alice Anderson, a supervisor of viewers analysis and influence at Mia from 2017 to 2023, famous that beneath Luber, only a few selections have been made beneath the management stage. “Middle managers or below felt very ill equipped to make decisions, because they all had to be made from a top level,” she mentioned.

In an interview with Hyperallergic, Cesar Montufar, an organizer for Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 12, which represents Mia employees, additionally echoed employees’ points.

“The intent here is to get the board of directors to remove Katie Luber,” Montufar mentioned. “There is no one on this coalition who sees a future for this museum functioning the way it should, with her at the helm.”

The missive penned by former Mia employees alleges “a disturbing pattern of behavior” from Luber within the final 4 years, together with “racist remarks, unfounded termination, performative nods to equity, and gaslighting.” Lax responded to the claims by calling them “broad-brush accusations” that “lack any specifics and are completely baseless.” 

“Until Bob’s termination, there have been no union grievances, unfair labor practice charges, or litigation filed about any of these things — because they are not true,” Lax mentioned. She listed the museum’s posted list of actions and activities on DEI issues as an indication of Mia’s work. 

Concerns round Luber’s administration date again to 2020, when important neighborhood responses put in as half of the touring exhibition When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Art and Migration have been eliminated by management. Cozzolino was one of two curators who signed an open letter at the time addressing considerations round Mia’s actions.

“The target was set on him because he signed that letter,” mentioned Anniessa Antar, a former Mia staffer and coordinator of the Museum as Site for Social Action (MASS Action) initiative, a nationwide workgroup Mia fashioned beneath Luber’s predecessor, Kaywin Feldman. The program was aimed at making museums racially simply. According to Antar, MASS Action had recognized a transfer towards extra hierarchical fashions at museums, mirroring shifts in company and nonprofit worlds.

“There’s a pendulum swing back to top-down, stringent lockdown on giving people autonomy to be able to do their jobs well,” Antar mentioned. 

So far, it doesn’t appear that the museum’s board will take motion in response to current organizing. “I have full confidence in Katie Luber’s leadership of Mia,” wrote Mia Board Chair John Lindahl in an announcement to Hyperallergic. “She has helped the museum navigate and vigorously bounce back from the impact of the pandemic — through hiring, exhibition and program development, and fundraising — and with a strong and diverse team in place the museum is fulfilling its mission while also strategically incorporating DEI initiatives across the institution.”

But public stress is mounting, with the checklist of names on the open public letter indicating a who’s who of essential figures within the artwork world. As curator, donor, and artist Harriet Bart wrote in an e mail to Hyperallergic: “It is clear to me that all is not well.” 

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