Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art hits back at ‘toxic culture’ allegations

The museum has strongly defended its commitment to diversity and inclusion

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney has issued a rebuttal to accusations from former staff members that the institution had a ‘toxic’ working environment and lacked protections for people of colour while handling cases in which visitors exhibited racist and abusive behaviour.

In response to the allegations, the museum has strongly defended its commitment to diversity and inclusion, saying that it ‘does not tolerate any form of discrimination from staff or the public’. The museum said that the ‘the recent allegations have been investigated and there is no substance to the assertion that we have a toxic culture. In fact, for the past five years we have had an over 80% satisfaction rate in our staff survey.’

A former trainee and later gallery assistant Lily Lai published a blog post in which she claimed that she had been bullied, and senior staff had failed to support staff of colour from abuse from the public – reported on by ArtReview last month. Lai also criticised the salary structure for trainees. The Sydney Morning Herald also reported comments from other former staff members who alleged a lack of support, and ‘dismissive’ and ‘aggressive’ behaviour by some managers to staff complaints.

The museum hit back, saying that it provided ‘rigorous training’ and support to its front of house staff, and pointed to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy. ‘In the past five years, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff has substantially increased as a result of implementing this plan,’ the museum said. In the statement sent to ArtReview, MCA Sydney also drew attention to other programmes it runs ‘to ensure inclusion’ including a schools access programme for students from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.

The museum’s statement also pointed to its representation of artists from diverse backgrounds across its permanent collection and exhibitions programme, including the fact that ‘one third of the MCA Collection is the work of First Peoples artists.’

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