Update - March 31, 2021:
Our Commitment to Transparency and Reporting on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work
Bellevue Arts Museum is committed to creating and sustaining a culture where everyone feels welcomed, supported, and included. To that end, the Museum is making several immediate changes and investing in longer-term solutions to ensure that our systems, policies, and procedures are equitable and inclusive.
In January 2021, BAM formed a DEI committee to make thoughtful recommendations and oversee the implementation of systemic changes, starting with a comprehensive internal survey to determine a baseline for DEI-related work. The committee is responsible for assuring Museum policies, initiatives, and programs are equitable and inclusive.
We understand the value of an independent and experienced perspective to provide counsel and to guide us during this transformation. With that in mind, the Bellevue Arts Museum Board is in the process of hiring an outside DEI consultant to help us do this work in a way that is both intentional and impactful. We will work with the consultant to identify and implement important and necessary changes that will supplement the mandatory training for Board members, staff, and docents that is already underway.
We, as an institution, are committed to this growth and learning. We believe that it is important to be transparent about our progress and will provide regular updates to the community via email and our website. We will post our first public update on this work in June.
Update - March 19, 2021:
Statement from Bellevue Arts Museum’s Board of Trustees on Resignation of Executive Director
The Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees has accepted the resignation of its executive director and chief curator, effective immediately, following artist and community concerns brought forward by guest curator, Tariqa Waters. The board is working closely with senior staff members on an interim leadership plan. On March 15, the Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees’ leadership issued an apology to Waters and the artists of Yellow No. 5 for the regrettable experience they had while working with the Museum.
The events described in an open letter issued on March 15 do not align with or reflect our values as an artistic institution. Board leadership would again like to apologize to Ms. Waters and affirm that we have committed to responding to the requests made in the open letter.
We recognize that the change in leadership is only one part of a larger effort to build back trust and confidence with our curators, partners, artists, staff and community. We are committed to taking immediate and intentional steps to listen, learn and act so that we can do better and move forward together.
As we strive to create and sustain a culture where everyone feels welcomed, supported and included, we will regularly share public updates about the work of our Board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee on our website, in addition to the immediate changes outlined in our March 15 public statement. We are determined to make progress, improve our systems, policies and practices, and cultivate an environment that is encouraging, safe and respectful for everyone.
We believe art heals. We can and must do better. We welcome your feedback and encourage you to contact the Museum with comments or questions through our new open communications channel www.bellevuearts.org/feedback.
Holding Ourselves Accountable and Our Commitment to Doing Better
March 15, 2021
As a leading cultural institution on the Eastside, Bellevue Arts Museum is committed to creating an environment that supports freedom of artistic expression and invites and embraces diverse and wide-ranging perspectives. Key to this commitment is living up to the Museum’s core value of Respect and holding ourselves accountable when we fall short.
To this end, Board leadership would like to apologize to the artists of Yellow No. 5 and particularly to the exhibition’s guest curator, Tariqa Waters, for their experience while working with the Museum. We acknowledge the open letter sent to the Bellevue Arts Museum’s Board of Trustees. We take this letter very seriously and are committed to conducting thorough due diligence in advance of responding to all of the items in the letter. We will be able to share more details about our actions moving forward before the end of the month, March 31st, as requested in the open letter.
In July of 2020, Waters met with BAM’s Executive Director & Chief Curator Benedict Heywood and one of the artists in the exhibition over Zoom to address budget transparency and equity. The meeting was set to inform the artist on the call that their project would be receiving a smaller portion of the budget in the interest of equity. At the end of this call, Waters overheard Heywood tell the artist not to worry about the budget and claim that Waters was not experienced in museum curation and would need their guidance. The full extent of these comments not only undermined her ability to curate her exhibition and advocate for the artists, but also contributed to a long history of racism and sexism in undermining black women.
Various communications following this incident occurred, including a mediation. Operating under a series of incorrect assumptions, the Museum’s leadership did not send a draft of the requested apology to Waters after the mediation. Instead, BAM posted a statement to its website in mid-January regarding its position on DEI work, that did not directly address an apology to Waters or the Yellow No. 5 artists.
The board and leadership of the Museum are committed to doing better, and to ensuring that the broader community feel welcomed, respected, and safe at the Museum and in the programs we hold. Diversity and equity are essential to fostering a space that lives up to this ideal, and we hold ourselves accountable for this work.
We acknowledge that we need to make diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities in our efforts moving forward. We have established a DEI committee that will develop policies that cover every aspect of the Museum’s work, which will be posted publicly. These policies will be further integrated into our 3-year strategic plan as central to all that we do.
We know that we cannot wait until a thoroughly thought-through set of policies is put in place to start to make change and to that end we have made an initial set of actions to be implemented immediately.
Understanding and Training
- To understand the full scope of the issues we face, we will be conducting a comprehensive survey of staff and our community, so we can move forward with a clear picture of the work ahead
- To elevate our understanding and self-awareness of the impact of our own actions, we will be providing mandatory and ongoing training to board, leadership, docents, and staff to ensure that we fulfill the promise to ourselves, the community, and our mission
- To ensure an ongoing pathway for feedback, the Museum will provide a safe and anonymous channel to provide direct feedback to the Board and DEI committee regarding initiatives or challenges faced within the environment
- To ensure our staff and board represent the diversity of our community, in the recruitment processes, we will remove barriers to applicants, and ensure a diverse applicant pool before hiring occurs. We will also publicly state our salary ranges. We are actively recruiting for a Director of Education—a critical role for advancing and centering the Museums commitment to DEI work.
- To stay on course with the progressive evolution of the museum, we will establish DEI metrics for staff and board recruitment.
- We are undergoing a review of our curatorial contract language, so that we may enhance the clarity around budget and the commitments of BAM to any guest curator.
There is a lot of work to do, and we acknowledge that we may make mistakes along the way. But we also acknowledge that this learning, and most importantly BAM’s future actions, are essential for the Museum to live up to our stated values. We are committed to transparency and accountability and continued monitoring of progress as we continue on this journey. We want to hear from our community, and we are open to your questions or thoughts on how we can improve.
For further inquiries please contact Rebecca Lyman, President Bellevue Arts Museum’s Board of Trustees, or Mitch Smith, Immediate Past-President Bellevue Arts Museum’s Board of Trustees and DEI Committee Chair.