Detroit Institute of Arts Board Members Quit in Protest of Leadership
March 30, 2021
Six Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) elected board members—Anne Fredericks, Mary Ann Gorlin, Julie Rothstein, Suzanne Shank, Carol Walters, and Celeste Watkins-Hayes—have resigned after a board committee on Friday voted to monitor museum chief Salvator Salort-Pons rather than dismiss him for what staff have characterized as an aggressive, harassing, insular, and in some instances illegal management style. A seventh elected board member departed citing professional obligations rather than pointing to the retention of Salort-Pons.
Those resigning in protest were all dissenting members of a nineteen-person executive committee that determined by majority vote that Salort-Pons, who has led the institution since 2015, should stay in his post, even after outside law firm Crowell and Moring late last year delivered an investigative report to the board—the confidential presentation of which was leaked—describing the museum boss as “erratic, autocratic, condescending, intolerant of dissent and lacking in clear and effective communication.” Staff alleged that Salort-Pons retaliated against those who disagreed with him, and that he hired applicants based only on race or gender, in violation of federal law. The report additionally revealed that women in management positions left the institution more frequently than men during the past five years, and that Pons showed “a lack of facility with race-related issues.” Investigators noted that of the twenty-two current and former museum employees interviewed, many seemed fearful of speaking with them.
“I thank each of these directors for their service and support and am sorry that these resignations have occurred,” said board president Eugene Gargaro in a statement, referring to the members stepping down. “I wish that they all would have remained and continued to work with us to help the DIA reach its full potential. I am confident that our board members will continue to provide critical input and productive involvement as we work together in shaping the future of the DIA.”
Before the departures, the board comprised fifty-four elected members, thirty-two nonvoting emeritus members (one of whom also resigned for unspecified reasons), and forty-four honorary members.