Robert Lynch, the influential head of Americans for the Arts (AFTA), is taking a paid leave of absence amid investigations into claims of a toxic work environment under his leadership.
Lynch has served as president and chief executive of the nonprofit for the last 35 years and is currently a member of the Biden-Harris transition team.
The news, announced today in a statement released by AFTA, comes after current and former employees publicly called for Lynch to step down after he allegedly resisted efforts toward transparency and racial equality in the organization. Others have spoken out against an alleged workplace culture of harassment and intimidation.
“Over the last weeks it has become evident that despite our best efforts, we have not met our goals to lead, serve, and advance the diverse networks of entities and individuals who cultivate the arts in America,” the nonprofit’s board said in the statement. “We have listened to the voices within the arts community calling for institutional equity and racial justice within our organization and the wider industry, as well as a greater commitment to the artists and arts organizations in need of support.”
AFTA will bring in New York-based law firm Proskauer Rose to conduct an investigation into the hostile workplace allegations, while the Hewlin Group, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C., will look into the organization’s “progress regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the board said.
Brigadier General Nolen Bivens, a former board member, will step in as interim president and CEO in Lynch’s absence.
“It is Bob [Lynch’s] strong belief—one that is regrettably shared by the board—that the most appropriate course of action now is to allow the investigations to proceed without distraction and in the best interests of the mission of the organization and the field,” the statement said. “Bob will remain on paid administrative leave while the pending outside investigations are underway.”
AFTA did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for further comment.
In an op-ed published last month on Hyperallergic, a member of AFTA’s Arts Education Advisory Council, Quanice Floyd, said that she and others “have demanded transparency and accountability on multiple occasions only to be given the runaround from senior leadership.”
Floyd says she was among a group of people who asked AFTA leadership to recruit BIPOC board members and launch a paid position to foster relationships with diverse arts organizations. They were told that leadership needed “time to think more intentionally about it,” she wrote.
While AFTA has repeatedly preached equality in the arts, Floyd alleged that the nonprofit has done little to actively support changes among the many arts organizations it supports.
Meanwhile, an open letter written by former and current AFTA staff members in late November echoed Floyd’s complaints.
“While the organization was publishing articles about the #MeToo movement, it was simultaneously protecting perpetrators of sexual harassment within the organization and on its advisory groups,” the letter read. “While posting about Black Lives Matter on Instagram, the organization silenced criticism from its own employees asking for changes related to racial equity in the organization’s policies or programming.”