The Museum of Fine Arts announced this week that it has created a new staff position as part of what it says is a commitment to inclusion.
The move comes four months after a group of seventh grade students from Dorchester’s Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy experienced racism and harassment from museum patrons and staff. The incident was widely covered and sparked criticism about how major cultural institutions treat people of color.
The creation of the position was not a direct response to the racist incident in May, says chief of learning and community engagement Makeeba McCreary, who will be managing the new senior director of inclusion. “This person in the short term will need to build really strong relationships across the museum, both within learning and community engagement but also across the other departments,” she says.
McCreary says that the creation of the position is part of the work she’s been doing since she started at the museum early this year. The job description will be finalized and posted on their website in the coming weeks, according the MFA.
The museum acknowledges the need for change and responded to the May 16 incident by apologizing and banning the two patrons who made the alleged racist statements. Lawyers for affected students, parents and an educator at Davis sent a letter to the MFA back in June, demanding the creation of a standing exhibit showcasing local student work, paid summer internships at the museum for its students, plus lifelong memberships for them, their families and staff. The lawyers were unavailable for comment.
McCreary says while this position was already in the works, the museum has made other intentional changes in response to the May 16 incident, and this fall they will implement a range of improvements to the school group experience.
“A lot of that work has to do with imagining what kinds of interventions would have been helpful, but also what some of the barriers were that they experienced while they were here,” says McCreary.
Those improvements include providing support materials for students before they get to the museum, a more welcoming entry experience, and expansion of available tools and on-site support during group visits.
Correction: An earlier version of this post aimed to paraphrase a conversation with McCreary about inclusion efforts at the MFA. She did not call the museum's efforts a way to combat "systemic racism," as a previous version of this story implied.
This article was originally published on September 12, 2019.