Six DIA board members have resigned in wake of controversies involving director

Several board members from the Detroit Institute of Art have resigned in protest of the museum's director remaining in a leadership role.

Director Salvador Salort-Pons has been at the center of multiple controversies involving conflicts of interest in business dealings and being accused of maintaining a hostile work environment at the museum.

The details of an independent review of Salort-Pons actions at DIA that allege he created toxic conditions for employees were leaked in an audio recording earlier this month. In response, the board met last Friday to come up with solutions to issues involving management.

That decision wasn't good enough for some members of the board, however. Six resigned in protest late last week.

The accusations against Salort-Pons stem back to last summer when allegations that he created a hostile and chaotic work culture were compiled by a list group with demands that the director should resign.

A report from the New York Times also detailed concerns that Salort-Pons had a potential conflict of interest after he lobbied an art collector to loan a painting to his museum. That collector is his father-in-law.

Then, a recording of a meeting between leadership at the DIA and attorneys tasked with uncovering allegations of misconduct at the museum was distributed by a nonprofit.

The Detroit Institute of Art

In it, attorneys are heard citing staff that described Salort-Pons management style as "erratic, autocratic, condescending, intolerant of dissent."

The attorneys, of the Washington D.C. law firm Crowell and Moring, said that if disagreement between the director and subordinates came about, those employees weren't included in additional meetings.

RELATED: Alleging a 'hostile' work environment, current and former DIA staff call on director to be removed

Since the audio's reveal, six board members have resigned in protest. Wayne County's executive commended the decision, arguing they took a "principled stand" against mismanagement and inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

"These board members sent a strong message that grievances aired by women employees of the DIA must be taken seriously by the museum’s executive leadership and its governing board," said Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. "I am proud that these board members have stood behind the women who have brought forward credible allegations of retaliation, sexism, cultural insensitivity, and a leadership culture that is misaligned with the mission and goals of the DIA."

DIA board Chairman Gene Gargaro said some of the reasons given by the resigning board included the leadership style of the director and some of his hiring practices, which were called into question as far back as November 17.

In a statement, Gargaro said, "I am sorry that these resignations have occurred. I wish that they all would have remained and continue to work with us to help DIA reach its full potential."

This week's culmination of controversy has been building for years. Surveys of staff that have been employed at the museum found fewer people enjoyed work at the DIA.

  • For the question: "The DIA provides a culture in which I can thrive in," 72% agreed in 2016. Only 18% agreed in 2020
  • For the question: "At the DIA, teams work together effectively in support of common goals," 57% agreed in 2016. Only 24% agreed in 2020
  • For the question: "Here at the DIA, my opinions seem to count," 48% agreed in 2016. Only 10% agreed in 2020

Additionally, a blog post on written by a former employee said that many of her colleagues had been "systematically disenfranchised" and that efforts to continue using best practices at the museum had been undermined by leadership.

"He's done a lot for the DIA," said board member Tom Guastello. "We've done a number of things to connect with the community that you might not see in a regular exhibit."