A top museum in Pennsylvania has forced out its own director, following allegations of sexual harassment published in a New York Times article.
Over the Times’ four-month investigation, nine women came forward and raised concerns about Director Joshua Helmer’s “objectionable behaviour” at the Erie Art Museum, which he took over in 2018, and in previous roles.
Erie Art Museum released a short statement yesterday afternoon to announce Helmer’s dismissal amidst growing public pressure. “Joshua Helmer is no longer employed at the Erie Art Museum,” stated the institution’s board of trustees, “the museum appreciates, in advance, the community’s support as we move forward.”
Helmer has been accused of threatening the careers of female employees, dating staff members against museum policy and creating a “toxic work environment”.
An online petition requesting Helmer’s departure garnered nearly 3,000 signatures, including more than 250 museum workers, and a protest had been scheduled for later this week. “Whatever benefit this man provides the art museum pales in comparison to the damage that he has done to women,” read the Change.org petition.
One Erie Art Museum intern, Asla Alkhafaji, recently left the museum. “I felt really unsafe,” she said, “he [Helmer] retaliated against me because I declined his advances.”
In 2018, the Philadelphia Museum of Art “separated” Helmer from his post as assistant director in the education department after several similar complaints of misconduct were filed against him. The museum has since banned him from entering its premises.
“It was just my time,” explained Helmer in an interview about his experience at the Philadelphia Museum, “I was looking for new opportunities.”
Erie Art Museum have declined knowledge of any allegations made against the former director before they offered him the position, describing that “no issues were identified during our due diligence.” The museum’s vetting procedures have since been dubbed “inadequate” by the Museum Studies Program at the University of Delaware on the program’s Facebook page.
Despite these complaints, Helmer was appointed one of the youngest museum directors in the US at the age of just 31. Last year, ARTNews named him as one of the country’s museum directors under 40 who were positively shaping their institutions.
Gina Ciralli, an Erie museum worker who cited Helmer’s behaviour for her departure, declared that “this is a victory for women. Removing Josh from his position of authority creates a safer work environment for everyone in the field. We can all breathe again.”