by Noor Hindi and Rosalie Murphy
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.
In September 2019 — within weeks of the conclusion of an independent investigation into workers’ allegations of a hostile work environment and the subsequent departure of two senior employees — the Akron Art Museum’s Board of Directors voted to change the museum’s code of regulations, removing the ability of museum members to vote on candidates for board seats.
In a recording of the Sept. 24 annual meeting obtained by The Devil Strip, former board president Bruce Rowland reads the recommended change by the board governance committee: “The proposal is to change the Akron Art Museum code of regulations to a self-perpetuating board, where the board of directors elect and terminate the directors instead of designating voting members.”
The change was approved without discussion or explanation.
The museum’s marketing department has not yet responded to a request to share current copies of the institution’s bylaws, code of regulations or its constitution, or to a request to explain the September change.
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The Devil Strip found a copy of the museum’s code of regulations, dated August 2013, on the museum’s blog hosted on WordPress, which hasn’t been updated in several months. That version of the regulations says that the museum’s voting membership has the power to:
- Elect directors to the board
- Increase or decrease the number of seats on the board
- Convene a special meeting of the membership
Several former employees and members told The Devil Strip that at earlier annual meetings, members approved a slate of new board members with a voice vote.
One former board member, who spoke on background, says the governance change “makes a lot of sense.”
“There are so many members, and they can’t possibly know what’s going on to vote. It never made sense for 1,000 members to come when the board sets policy,” they say. “I think that probably was a bit of housekeeping.”
Some former staff members are skeptical of that explanation due to the timing, however.
“It’s quite suspicious that they happened to do this vote pertaining to who gets to decide on hiring and terminating the appointment of the director of the museum right after this major investigation,” says John Aylward, who worked in the visitor services department at the Akron Art Museum before the museum closed due to the pandemic.
The code of regulations change was mentioned in the calendar listing for the annual meeting on the Akron Art Museum’s website. (The museum updated its website during the last week, and the original link is now broken.)
Art museum board expressed ‘full and 100% confidence’ in museum leadership after investigation
Prior to the public board meeting on Sept. 24, board officers Bruce Rowland, Drew Engles and Myriam Haslinger met with AAM staff to discuss the investigation.
Employees say all full-time staff members were present, as well as part-time staff members who were scheduled to work that day. For those who were not scheduled to work, the museum paid them for the time spent at the meeting if they chose to attend.
The former board member who spoke to The Devil Strip says that it is not typical for the board of directors to respond to staff members directly. The director’s role is to oversee day-to-day operations of the museum, they say, while the board’s role is to make policy.
But former employees have repeatedly told us that they expected more attention from the board, both before and after the letter that 27 employees sent to the board in June 2019.
Many staff members were eager for that meeting, which took place on Sept. 4, because they had been waiting for the board’s decision regarding the investigation into the allegations raised in the letter. But Engels did not explain which allegations the law firm confirmed.
Instead, in a recording of that meeting obtained by The Devil Strip, Engles announces that the board is “proud of the work” staff members are doing, and affirms their confidence in director Mark Masuoka’s leadership as AAM heads into its centennial anniversary.
“Finally, and most importantly, our director and CEO, Mark, and his leadership team have our full and 100% confidence as we go forward in these endeavors,” says Engles.
Employees say the staff meeting was tense because of Masuoka’s presence, which they feel stifled questions and discussion from the staff, who had not had the opportunity to speak directly to the board during the investigation.
“It was very, very icy,” Crowe says. “It was hard for us to imagine that they would push us under the rug after all that and still dismiss us. We were disappointed. It was a blow. It was very cold and isolating. It just didn’t feel safe.”
Aylward was also in attendance and describes an environment where the staff was unable to “talk to the board freely” for fear of retaliation from Masuoka.
Photos: Shane Wynn.