Twin crises hit Detroit Institute of Arts

Salvador Salort-Pons, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, is suddenly confronting twin crises in one week — a charge of nepotism involving the loan of an El Greco painting, and allegations of racial mistreatment by current and former staffers.

The latter, calling themselves the DIA Staff Action group, accuse Salort-Pons of creating a toxic work environment, one that is said to be unfriendly to people of color.

On Monday, the group posted a statement on Twitter calling for Salort-Pons to “be removed from his role as director, president & chief executive officer and any other involvement at the (museum) by Aug. 31, 2020.”

They also promised that a more comprehensive list of demands will be forthcoming.

This is not the first public inkling of dissatisfaction with museum employees, current or former. An essay on medium.com by Andrea Montiel de Shuman, digital experience designer, explained her reasons for resigning in June from the institution she calls “a precious anchor.”

She emphasized that she adores the DIA, but added, “In the past couple of years, the institution has been reshaped into a form that many of us cannot recognize — it is a contradictory, hostile, at times vicious and chaotic work environment,” directed by “leadership that has fostered a totalitarian, oligarchic system.”

Montiel de Shuman, who’s an immigrant from Mexico, describes a culture of racial and cultural insensitivity, and a bureaucratic tendency to dismiss input from employees of color.

“We have to remember and acknowledge,” she wrote, “that the victims of systematic racism are not only those at the end of a gun.”

It was not clear whether Montiel de Shuman is a member of DIA Staff Action or not.

The other controversy, first reported by the New York Times, concerns the loan of an El Greco painting to the DIA by Salort-Pons’ father-in-law, Alan M. May, a retired developer in Dallas.

The painting is the 16th-century work, “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata.”

A whistle-blower complaint has reportedly been filed with the Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, as well as the Internal Revenue Service, alleging violation of conflict-of-interest laws.

mhodges@detroitnews.com

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