The firestorm of public controversy over the July firing of former Montreal Museum of Fine Arts director Nathalie Bondil has taken yet another turn. On Monday, current and former employees of the museum released a new open letter—copies of which were emailed to several media outlets (and that is embedded below)—voicing their emphatic support for Bondil’s termination.
This new action is intended to push back against several petitions circulated in favor of the ousted director following her high-profile firing.
Noting that pro-Bondil petitions and statements have been “used in the media,” the new letter is emphatic: “[E]nough is enough. We who have signed this letter are employees of the MMFA; we are the ones aware of what truly happened, having experienced the troubling events first-hand.”
The latter is a reference to allegations of a “toxic” work culture experienced by staff during Bondil’s tenure.
“We believe the time has come to make our voices heard in order to put a stop to the distorted media coverage that is only harming our institution,” the letter continues. On August 10, the day of its release, it had 107 signatures including from 89 current and 18 former staffers.
The current tensions have seen both museum staff and the museum board face off against Bondil and her supporters, including Quebec culture minister Nathalie Roy.
The new open letter alleged that the work environment had been deteriorating at the institution for a number of years. While acknowledging “Nathalie Bondil’s vision and her success in further raising the MMFA’s profile,” the signatories said that the time had nonetheless come to speak out.
According to the letter, harassment and intimidation were daily occurrences at the museum, particularly during show installations, with witnesses present. Grievances were often blocked and colleagues “repeatedly frozen out.” No team had professional autonomy to make decisions, resulting in avoidable cost overruns and needless stress. Bondil’s micromanagement was said to “cripple employee workflow.”
The letter goes a step further in addressing Bondil’s defiant reaction to her firing: “[W]e are deeply offended that [she] has publicly described herself as the victim of ‘a lynching.’ In 2020, this shows a shocking disconnect with the times and the Museum’s humanist values she supposedly espouses. How dare she make such an egregious statement after everything she has done and allowed to happen?”
The staff letter also takes aim at one of Bondil’s supporters, though it does not call him out by name. The man, described as a former director, is said to be behind petitions making the rounds among museum members. The letter describes him as “hell-bent on publicly discrediting the Board whose actions have been purely in the Museum’s best interests.”
The employee letter called his motives “highly questionable” and allege that he was appointed by Bondil despite being unqualified. He was also, the letter asserts, among the managers responsible for the unhealthy environment.
A source identified the man as Thomas Bastien, whose name is listed as organizer of a pro-Bondil petition on Change.org which has been signed by more than 5,000 people. Bastien was formerly director of education and wellness at the museum.
Quebec culture minister Roy has previously said she was “flabbergasted” when she first heard that Bondil’s job was at risk, and stated that she was investigating the museum for the dismissal.
Bondil herself couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by Artnet News, but earlier today she told the : “I will just say I am very sad.” She added: “There are a lot of allegations and opinions and I respect that… I would like to see facts.”
While stating that staff should not have been drawn into the media uproar over the firing, the latest open letter invited the culture minister to talk directly with signatories for clarification of the issues.