UPDATE:In an email to employees Tuesday, May 19, the Akron Art Museum announced director Mark Masuoka’s resignation effective immediately. Board member Jon Fiume will step in as interim. He’s a local arts advocate who was most recently COO of Mustard Seed Market & Cafe. The board also announced the search for a permanent director will include board members, museum staff and community leaders. The museum will also hire a search firm for the process. Check back for details as we learn more.
What follows is an open letter to the community from Richard S. Rogers, a longtime donor to The Akron Art Museum, shared with The Devil Strip by the author.
After watching the tragedy at the Akron Art Museum unfold in the national and local press, seeing the recent feeble and defensive response to the public, and learning that the plans are to keep the leadership team in place; I felt it was time to express my feelings on the matter.
My two grandmothers, my mother, my daughters and grandchildren have all been involved with or touched by the museum in some way. I served as trustee and board chair. For five generations our family has made a substantial commitment of time and money in support of the institution.
This was a preventable disaster. When I learned of the brewing troubles with the staff in June of 2019 I made repeated attempts in writing and in person to express my concerns to the board’s executive committee. It fell on deaf ears. In fact, the board actively tried to discredit me.
The board ignored the pleas of their staff and advice from past funders and trustees. Now the result is ruined careers, departure of talent, rock bottom morale, flight of donors and sullying of the museum’s impeccable reputation. With the brand in tatters how will they attract great artists, exhibitions and staff? Aside from protecting the collection, preserving and enhancing the reputation and standing of our institution is the prime responsibility of leadership. On this measure alone, we have an unequivocal failure. It’s also a big embarrassment to the City of Akron.
In light of the recent revelations I expected the prompt resignation of the current management team and a fresh approach. It’s my understanding that the board plans to leave this team in place. Pretending that everything is fine with the museum is not working. Changes need to be made. Somebody needs to have the courage to make them, as painful as that may be.
The board (primarily the executive committee) needs to be held accountable. I have personally observed inappropriate, aggressive bullying behavior from a past president and inaccurate, dismissive, and belittling comments about employees from others. The root cause of this fiasco is bad board leadership, lack of enforcement of good governance, and failure to follow proven best practices like board orientation and training, a human resource function, and routine review of the executive director.
Sadly, we have witnessed other local institutions like the University of Akron, Summa Hospital and University Park Alliance face serious harm or outright failure for similar reasons. This community should expect and demand much higher levels of accountability, governance and performance from its public institutions.