“No food, no drink, and no watermelon,” seventh graders from Boston’s Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy reported that a staffer at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts told the more than two dozen students, all children of color, during an orientation at the beginning of their tour of the museum on May 16.
“Last week, a number of students on an organized visit encountered a range of challenging and unacceptable experiences that made them feel unwelcome,” the museum said in an “Open Letter from the MFA Leadership Team” that was posted to its website on May 22. “That is not who we are or want to be. Our intention is to set the highest of standards, and we are committed to doing the work that it will take to get there.”
“This was a strong group of students that went, they excelled academically,” Arturo J. Forrest, the principal of the school in Boston’s Fields Corner neighborhood, told The Boston Globe. “The shock of it for them was, ‘We are the top and we carry ourselves the right way as leaders.’ You know, it was very eye-opening for them. … There were many comments that made them feel unsafe throughout their time there.”
Boston artist Tory Bullock expressed the sentiments of many in the community.
The museum responded after Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh-grade English teacher at the school, recounted the experience in a May 20 Facebook post that as of this morning has been shared more than 1,200 times: “The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, racially profiled my students.”
“At the very beginning of the tour, one of the staff gave an overview on what to expect and told the kids no food, no drink, and no watermelon,” Lamy wrote. “…Throughout our walk through, they [security guards] followed us. Many of our students grew agitated. At the end, we went through the ‘Gender Bending’ exhibit where the security guard followed our every movement.”
When a student danced to music included in an exhibit, Lamy wrote, a “visitor said that’s it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping. That’s when I had it. … The worst part about all of this is seeing the hurt look on my children’s faces as this was their first time experiencing racism first hand. It’s sad that although our students are well behaved and our teachers are well educated, that we are still seen as less than and as criminals. I cannot stress to you enough, I WILL NEVER GO BACK TO THE MUSUEM OF FINE ARTS. They will not see a dollar of mine. If you are a person of color, please do not support this museum until they improve how they treat people of color at their institution.”
“We were extremely troubled to learn about the experience a class from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy had at the MFA,” the MFA statement reads. “Immediately after being made aware of the situation, Makeeba McCreary, the MFA’s Chief of Learning and Community Engagement, reached out to Christopher Coblyn, Interim Executive Director of the Academy, to apologize and work together with MFA Protective Services to investigate the details of what happened. McCreary and Coblyn have been in direct communication since the day of the visit. We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy. We deeply regret any interactions that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect.”
If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.