Broken: Protocols and Promises
These harms and failures have been documented and shared below.
MMoCA violated internal protocol, industry standards, and signed contractual obligation on multiple occasions.
There were multiple instances of violations of both contract and convention. These included: a lack of condition reports delivered to artists upon museum’s receipt of artwork; multiple works installed unsafely, incorrectly, and damaged upon installation; and valuing included pieces at significantly below artists’ appraisal on insurance paperwork.
Most strikingly, in loan agreement contracts signed by Christina Brungardt on March 2, the museum promised to “exercise the same care in respect to artwork loaned to it, as it does in safekeeping of its own artwork.”
It is evident that a series of protocol lapses resulted in the 6/24 damage to and subsequent theft of Lilada Gee’s installation. MMoCA’s stated protocol for art theft and/or damage appears below.
We ask: how does the museum evaluate its response relative to these protocols, given the culmination in exhibited work leaving the museum with guests? In instances of failure to adhere to protocol, how does the museum account for its breach of contract with the artists? If the museum contends that protocol was followed, what changes can be implemented to prevent similar harms in the future?
IN CASE OF THEFT
(Most smaller-sized pieces of art are secured to the wall/pedestal to prevent theft.)
- Loudly and clearly inform the visitor to put down the artwork
- Notify the Supervisor via radio ASAP about the artwork and a brief description of the guest.
- The Supervisor should not try to “hold” or detain the guest, instead Supervisor should take a photo of the suspect using their cell phone (if possible).
The Supervisor will immediately contact the Director of Public Operations for further instructions. If no answer, contact the Public Operations Manager, and/or the Director of Facilities and Installations.
The Director of Public Operations will make the decision whether to contact the police. The Supervisor will call 911 and follow dispatch’s instructions until an officer arrives.
In most instances, the Supervisor will be directed to place stanchions around the area to minimize further damage or to close off the gallery until the police arrive.
The Director of Public Operations is responsible for contacting the Director of Facilities and Installations, Business Manager, Museum Director, Curator of the exhibition, and/or the Registrar/Exhibitions Manager.
The Supervisor (with assistance from the Gallery Attendant) will be directed to start an incident report, with careful attention to timing as to allow better tracking of the individual on the cameras.
If guests inquire as to why the gallery is unavailable, inform them it is due to emergency maintenance. Do not tell guests that artwork has been stolen.
DAMAGE TO ARTWORK
If a guest touches a work of art:
- Remind the guest not to touch the art (or walls).
- Discreetly document on the yellow pad, using as much detail as possible:
- Child touched Wirsum “Winsome Losesome” on bottom left corner, parent intervened
The Supervisor will then document this information on the weekly report, informing the Assistant Curator, Director of Facilities and Information, and Registrar. A member of the museum’s curatorial team will follow up and confirm that there was no damage.
The yellow pad notes will have instructions regarding interactive pieces of artwork, and proper steps to take to reset. White gloves are available in the 2nd floor freight elevator and at the front desk, if needed.
If a piece of artwork appears damaged:
- Remind the guest not to touch the art (or walls) if appropriate
- Discreetly document on the yellow pad, using as much detail as possible:
- Guest’s backpack knocked over Fairbanks “ROSARY”, Gallery Attendant put on gloves and put upright upon direction from Supervisor / DPOD
- Radio the front desk to inform the Supervisor.
The Supervisor will then ask some follow-up questions regarding the potential damage.
The Supervisor will then take a photo and text it to the Director of Facilities and Installations and Director of Public Operations for instructions. In most instances, the Supervisor (with assistance from the Gallery Attendant) will be directed to start an incident report).
In some instances, the Supervisor will be directed to put on white gloves and place the artwork in the DPOD’s office or other secure location, or to place stanchions around the artwork to minimize further damage. The DFI or DPOD may arrive onsite to investigate and contact additional staff accordingly.
On two occasions, MMoCA leadership has reached to artists out in the aftermath of institutional racism, misogynoir, and harm to promises specific actions towards rectification.
Museum Director Christina Brungardt emailed several commitments to artists after Lilada Gee was assaulted by an Overture Center employee in March 2022. Following the defacement of Gee’s work, as artists began to withdraw, board member Leslie Smith III shared multiple resolutions from museum leadership in July 2022.
We, the impacted artists, have found these promises to be lacking, broken, and sometimes both. Promises are bolded; artist concerns follow.
Christina Brungardt's Commitments to Artists (4/12)
- “[The Overture Center] have agreed to matching artist payments, and MMoCA will process these so as to maintain the confidentiality of your information.”
- There was no follow-up communication with artists clarifying how and when to expect either this restitution payment or their honorariums. Artists who attended the exhibition opening received their honorariums and the matched Overture restitution amount in gift bags, along with hand sanitizer, and gifted one-year museum memberships.
- “They will also help offset security costs, understanding the concerns for safety that have arisen out of this incident.”
- At the exhibition opening on Saturday, April 23, there was no communication regarding or visible indication of an increased presence of security or heightened security procedures. Guests could freely enter the building and were directed to the State Street Gallery by non-security museum volunteers. By Friday, June 24, there was an insufficient distribution of gallery attendants to ensure the safety of the artwork and appropriate guidance for museum visitors. How were the security costs (offset by the Overture) allocated?
- “We will continue to keep you updated with information as it becomes available.”
- This was the first and last update that the Wisconsin Triennial artists received regarding amends from the Overture Center for the Arts from Christina Brungardt. The Overture Center never issued a public apology.
Leslie Smith III's Commitments to Artists (7/6)
- “Increased gallery attendants stationed throughout the museum”
- Why were there no attendants in The Shop gallery on 6/24?
- “Adding outside security on weekends for the foreseeable future”
- What will outside security add that increased attendants wouldn’t? As promised, has the Overture Center for the Arts paid to provide or offset additional security costs? (NB: the Overture no longer bears the only institutional accountability for the harm done to the Wisconsin Triennial exhibition and artists.)
- “Closed shop to deinstall work of Lilada Gee upon her request”
- In reaction to Lilada Gee’s comments to the media, leadership closed The Shop gallery through the entirety of the July 4th weekend. Museum failed to communicate the gallery closure to other exhibiting artists until the following week and elected not to relay this decision to the full slate of participating artists at all.
- “Working with artists that request deinstall and return shipping”
- The museum’s commitment to facilitating the retrieval and recovery of compromised work fulfills their professional and contractual responsibility. It does not constitute rectification or outreach work, nor does it acknowledge the institution’s own liability and contractual failures.
- “Meeting with staff to address incident and working through new solutions”
- Communications suggest that Black staff members with a vested interest in the development and success of the exhibition, guest curator, and artists have been reprimanded for approaching leadership in general and Christina Brungardt specifically to collaborate on appropriate institutional response.
- “Convening of the board of trustees to review policies and procedures”
- Given that there exists clear record of Board members’ opposition to the exhibition at time of proposal and over the course of development, compounded by harmful communication (and lack thereof) by Board members over the last two months, there is no reasonable confidence in the Board’s ability to self-evaluate relative to this matter.
- “Scheduling with IDEA consultant restorative justice process”
- The Wisconsin Triennial artists encourage the museum to publicly name the consulting entity; indicate a timeline for evaluation and action; and generously fund this endeavor.
- “Building a plan for creating a community dialogue around what has transpired to inform the museum how to adjust its practice”
- If the museum intended to publicly address the events of June 24 to solicit community feedback and adjust procedure, we are unaware of any efforts or timeline. We are unclear on who the museum considers to be “the community” impacted, and have experienced repeated efforts by museum leadership to communicate around this issue individually and not collectively.