Letter from the Director | 09.10.2020

Dear Friends,

After a six month interruption, we will soon be opening our doors and welcoming the public to our three powerful exhibitions: Peter Saul, Jordan Casteel, and Daiga Grantina. These exhibitions could not be more relevant as a contemporary barometer of our times and are even more so today than when they were forced to shut in early March. I want to thank all of our staff who have continued to work towards this day, juggling many personal challenges and braving the pandemic to keep the Museum protected, secured, and cared for.

The months of mandated closure have been enormously difficult for all of us personally and professionally. The Museum lost 40% of its income and we were forced to reduce our staff and programs. The pain was compounded by multiple intersecting crises—a global pandemic, a hobbled economy, massive unemployment, and ineffective national leadership—that have underscored the glaring inequities in our society. Movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have brought the urgent need for reform to the surface of public consciousness as a new generation calls for radical change.

This is a moment of reckoning for everyone, including progressive institutions like the New Museum that have an imperative to adapt and respond to current issues. For decades, the Museum has been a platform for awareness around LGBTQ rights, gender equality, and racial equity. It has been led by women throughout its history; a majority of the Board members are female, and the majority of our staff is of color. Since our founding in 1977, the Museum has championed the work of artists of color. We are also proud to have achieved 50/50 gender parity both in numbers and compensation across all staff levels, and on our Board. Nonetheless, our times demand deeper self-reflection.

Last year, when some staff at the New Museum decided to form a union, we heard our employees and listened to their issues. After six months of good faith negotiations, we arrived at a collective bargaining agreement that both parties agreed to, a milestone many other organizations have yet to achieve. We continue to respect that agreement, including increasing salaries and benefits for the lowest paid employees, and honoring lay off/severance provisions. In light of the pandemic, we went beyond the agreement to extend health care for both union and non-union staff affected by layoffs and furloughs. Though management is often cast by some members of our union as antagonistic, that is not the case, and we continue to work to make improvements and establish a positive working relationship.

As we look past the current crisis, we remain focused on making change, and we have pledged to examine our own biases in order to live our values more fully. To that end, a staff working group and trustee task force have jointly made a series of recommendations that will guide an ongoing dialogue. Below are some of the changes we have implemented over the past few years.

  • Conducted unconscious bias training in 2016
  • Conducted annual anti-harassment training, beginning in 2018 (and provided resources for the field)
  • Improved accountability by implementing SMART goal performance reviews in 2018
  • Hired a dedicated Director of Human Resources — a new position created in Spring 2019
  • Ratified our Union CBA in October 2019, with terms that both parties agreed to —including significant raises (12-15%) for lowest-paid staff; increased benefits for PTO, health care, and holidays; and guaranteed annual salary increases
  • Updated code of conduct and whistleblower policies
  • Convened a Racial Equity Task Force of staff and Board; our plan: is now available
  • Offered health benefits for those who work 20 hours a week or more
  • Brought back 23 furloughed team members in August/September 2020
  • Conduct annual anti-racist training for staff and Board, starting in October 2020

We believe that institutional change comes through cooperation and collaboration — by shaping new narratives, experimenting with new approaches, and creating new partnerships. We’ve always believed that the New Museum is a space of education, exchange, and knowledge, and we are confident that the arts will be critical to our collective healing and recovery. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to providing a critical platform for the best of contemporary art and to promoting a more equitable future.

Looking forward to seeing you all,

Lisa Phillips
Toby Devan Lewis Director

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