Chicago museum allegedly ‘involuntarily retires’ all of its volunteer docents in effort to combat racism and income inequality

The Art Institute of Chicago allegedly “involuntarily retired” all of its volunteer docents last month in an effort to combat race and income inequality. In early September docents were notified that they had been fired from their volunteer service. The docents wrote a letter back to combat the new rule. The museum claims that none of them have been fired thus far.

Veronica Stein is the Executive Director of Learning and Engagement at the Art Institute of Chicago. She is also the one responsible for firing all 100 of its docents, 82 of which were active. On September 3, she sent all of them an email informing them that they would no longer be allowed to volunteer as docents at the museum. The docents were mostly older white, financially comfortable women. The average time spent working as a docent was 15 years. Stein explained to them that the museum would be working towards “allow[ing] community members of all income levels to participate, [respond] to issues of class and income equity, and not require financial flexibility” (Fox News). 

Robert Levy, chairman of the Art Institute, wrote that, “Critical self-reflection and participatory, recuperative action is required if we are to remain relevant to the changing audiences seeking connection to art.” He claimed that this move has been planned for 12 years. The docents also wrote a letter, where they said they had “engaged in eighteen months of twice-a-week training to qualify as a docent, five years of continual research and writing to meet the criteria of 13 museum content areas, and monthly and bi-weekly trainings to further educate ourselves with the materials, processes and cultural context” for the pieces in that museum alone. One said it was “practically a full-time job.” 

Since the announcement was made, an op-ed, editorial, and opinion piece have all been written in favor of and in opposition to the change. One of the former docents, Dietrich Klevorn had been there since 2012- and is a Black woman. She admitted that there wasn’t much demographic representation. However, the president of the docent council, Gigi Vaffis, claimed that socioeconomically, at least, there was some diversity.




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