Protesters gathered outside of the Toledo Museum of Art yesterday in response to a divisive letter issued by the institution’s director, Adam Levine, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
In the letter, which was sent to internal staff on June 1 before being shared publicly, Levine denounced rioting and looting and declared that the museum “does not have a political stance.”
“We exist to provide access to the highest quality works of art from across time and space to anyone, regardless of their beliefs or their appearance,” wrote the director, who stepped into his role just last month. “These are not empty words; this nonpartisan and disinterested approach is baked into our institutional DNA.”
Critics on social media took the museum to task for not taking a harder line against police brutality and racial injustice.
“This is not a neutral stance,” wrote one commenter in response to the museum’s message on Facebook. “To directly condemn looting and rioters and then go on to ramble about museums, academia, and neutrality is in fact taking a stance and infers that the status quo (which is built on institutional racism) is neutral. I expect better from the leadership of an art museum.”
Following the backlash, Levine issued a follow-up statement on June 5 laying out a series of initiatives the museum will undertake in the coming months, including unconscious bias training for staff; an appraisal of its exhibitions to ensure diverse programming; and a formal diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion plan. He also announced that the museum would hang a banner featuring a work of art by Alison Saar on its facade.
But the response did little to placate activists. “The museum is an institution of creativity. They have to be the charge,” Paul Verdell, a Toledo-based artist who organized Tuesday’s protest told local news station WTOL 11. “They have to be the leader in saying that this is not right and they can’t take a neutral stance.”
Verdell did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but wrote on his own Instagram that the protests at the museum would continue today.
Levine apologized to the protesters on Tuesday and issued a formal statement—his third in nine days.
“There are two things that I want to say clearly,” it began. “Number one—at the Toledo Museum of Art, Black Lives Matter. Violence and oppression of black and brown bodies is reprehensible. Number two—museums are not neutral.”
The museum declined to comment further.