By: KDKA-TV News Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Several former and current employees with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh have written an open letter claiming discriminatory practices on the part of the museum and the museum responded to the employees in a statement.

The letter is addressed to the larger Pittsburgh community and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. In the letter, past and current employees take issue with what they say are several discriminatory practices and instances of discrimination from museum leadership.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh responded in a statement, saying the coronavirus pandemic has caused them to make difficult decisions in regards to staffing.

Museum Senior Director of Communications Max Popman responded in a statement, “Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is aware of an open letter that raises questions about the museum’s operations and the difficult decisions that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make. We can assure our members, visitors, partners, and the public that we are committed to continuing our mission, of spreading joy, creativity, and curiosity for children and their families, and that all of our focus is on providing the best interactions possible for staff and guests in any and all experiences with our team.”

Among the allegations, the letter says that museum leadership reportedly does not prioritize Black children, used the Tree of Life shooting as a “marketing opportunity” and relegates BIPOC to cleaning or service positions, “jobs the Museum’s leadership views as less valuable to the Museum community.” Additionally, employees allege that last week the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh laid off dozens of workers, who were notified in a mass email.

The letter calls for other employees, past or present, to sign a petition.

You can read the full letter and the museum’s response below:

Open Letter:

“To our beloved Pittsburgh Community:

It would be tempting to dismiss this letter as the disgruntled musings of a staff who has either been laid off, is scared of being laid off, or has otherwise moved on from the museum. In truth, dozens of us were disposed of last week, without warning, through a mass email. But this letter isn’t about that. This letter is rooted in love. We love the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. And that’s why we cannot remain silent.

To dismiss us is to dismiss a fundamental truth: Black lives–the lives of the staff, of the educators and artists we work with and of the children we serve–simply do not matter to the Museum’s leadership.

Over the course of our employment, this is what we witnessed.

An indifference to the children the Museum serves, particularly the Black children we serve.

We witnessed a pattern of disrespect and dismissiveness towards partnerships with schools serving predominantly Black learners. The Museum regularly used and manipulated Black communities to receive funding and continued foundation support, without investing time or interest in our programs there. Museum leadership made no effort to genuinely connect with communities, nor did they try to understand the experiences of Black teachers and Black students. In fact, we witnessed the Museum try to cut ties with, and cancel programming for, two classrooms of predominantly Black children because it was not “lucrative enough.”

An unempathetic and opportunistic attitude toward our staff, partners, and artists.

We witnessed the Museum’s leadership use the Tree of Life terrorist attack as a marketing opportunity. When three employees – two with Jewish roots – raised their concern, they were silenced and retaliated against. Black artists were routinely treated differently. For example, when one artist created an exhibit that wasn’t centered in whiteness, the Museum’s leadership openly ridiculed his approach to installing exhibits. Many of us spoke up about these injustices–to directors, to HR, to our employee hotline–yet leadership never responded or allowed us to correct course.

An unwillingness to articulate and protect basic values.

We were traumatized by a series of decisions that always seemed to put the personal needs of leadership ahead of the needs of us and our community: when the Museum hired an external contractor and allowed their ‘blue lives matter’ themed truck to sit outside of the Museum for three consecutive days; when the Museum refused to act with urgency to ban the confederate flag from entering our doors; when the Museum ‘didn’t have time to explain’ why two Drag Queen Story Hours–story hours designed specifically to build confidence and teach the value of inclusivity–were canceled.

Unfair and discriminatory actions against staff.

The majority of the Museum’s Black, Indigenous, and POC staff hold cleaning or service positions– jobs the Museum’s leadership views as less valuable to the Museum community. When the pandemic hit, the only Black employee in a leadership role was furloughed, while many of the white leadership team members remained. In addition, the Museum often holds white employees to lower standards, and compensates its all-white leadership team up to five times more than other employees. When white allies expressed concern for the well-being of employees of color–in forums where their feedback was solicited–they not only experienced retaliation for doing so, but no meaningful action was taken. Other basic human resources practices were broken: employees with mental illness were told they ‘weren’t sick’; employees consistently faced retribution for voicing their opinions and employee reviews were regularly manipulated by leadership.

Here’s the truth: none of us are perfect. And, not every experience we had at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh was bad. Many were beautiful, filled with joy, and modeled the greatness of what the Museum can be. But, the leadership is simply not equipped to tackle the injustices of our world, or to advance the lives of children and families in our community. This institution, which has amazing staff members, families, and spirit, requires leadership that is authentic, empathetic, responsive and rooted in anti-racism.

Without this letter, we fear our voices may go unheard. And this is important because we speak for the children of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. We speak for our colleagues. And, importantly, we speak for our BIPOC colleagues at other non-profits who we know share a similar experience. We refuse to be silent because our community deserves better.

Signed,

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh Family,
Past and present staff, please join me in signing this letter by filling out this google form.

Will Tolliver Jr: Education/Exhibits 2018-2020, Devin Booker: Visitor Services 2015-2015, Annie Derek: Learning & Research/Education 2014-2018, Molly Dickerson: Learning & Research/Education 2013-2019, PJ Zimmerlink: Exhibits 2015-2020, Chelsea Vetere: Food Services 2008-2020, Alexa Frankovitch: Exhibits 2017-2019, Devon Dill: Education 2015-2019, Monet Spencer: Education 2017-2020, Joanna Kemp: Exhibits 2016-2020, Caitlyn Arroyo-Myers: Visitor Services/Marketing 2016-2020, Kyle Murphy: Education 2016-2019, Molly Breit: Visitor Services 2017-2018, Annesley Williams: Education 2016-2018, Kaylin Carder: Education 2016-2017, Carolyn Myron: Education/Exhibits 2018-2020, Colin Williams: Education 2015-2018, Melissa Rogers: Education 2015-2018, Danica Depenhart: Education 2019-2020, Evan Miller: Education 2018-2020, Levi Howser: Education 2019-2020, Talia Stol: Learning & Research 2018-2019, Claire Tiffany-Appleton: Education 2019-2020, Jaime Schoyer: Education 2016-2020, Felicia Cooper: Education 2014-2017, Charlene Acham: Education 2018-2020, Bekki Weber: Visitor Services 2014-2020, Sarelm Brooks: Visitor Services 2015-2018, Anonymous: 2015-2020, Anonymous: 2018-2020, Anonymous: Visitor Services 2015-2020, Veronika Panagiotou: Visitor Services 2013-2020, Erika Johnson: Visitor Services 2017-2020, Antwian Beck: Facilities 2008-2020, Ariane Autore: Visitor Services 2017-2020, Raeann Fischer MacNeil: Visitor Services 2014-2016, Anonymous: Visitor Services 2018-2019, Madeline Schatten: Visitor Services 2019-2020, Jordan Robinson: Visitor Services 2016-2020, Anonymous: Exhibits 2015-2020, Anonymous: Education – Currently Employed, Anonymous: Currently Employed, Anonymous: Education – Currently Employed, Lindsey Dufford: Visitor Services 2018-2020, Mark Hartman: Education 2014-2020, Julia McManus: Marketing 2011-2020, Anonymous: 2018-2020, Grey Toft: Education 2016-2020, Anonymous: 2018-2020, Anonymous: 2019-2020, Emma Vescio: Education 2018-2019, Darya Kharabi: Education 2018-2019, Anonymous: Consultant 2018-2020, Nora Peters: RIF Partnership 2017-2019, Hallie Harger: Education & Marketing 2012-2020, Emily Scott: Visitor Services 2017-2018, Don Orkoskey (Schmutz Co.): Education Partner 2009-2014, Ben Pyles: Education 2019-2020, Dave English: FINE Artist 2009-Present, Mike McCarthy: Visitor Services 2019-2019, Anonymous: Fellow 2012-2013, Drey Riffle: RIF Partnership 2016-2019, Stephanie Ross: Education 2013-2015, Anonymous: Exhibits 2020-2020, Emily Sturzebecher: Food Services 2019-2109, Anonymous: Management 2008-2018, Alyssa Brown: Visitor Services 2015-2020, Jim Rowell: Education 2013-2014, Stephanie Zellers: Exhibits 2015-2020, Steph Cassidy: Visitor Services 2014-2016, Johnny Arlett: Visitor Services 2019-2020, Dee Armagost: Education 2019-2020, Maeve Gannon: Education 2019-2020, Harriet Smith: Education 2014-2014, Christian Tsu-Raun: Education 2011-201, A.M.: Education 2012-2014, Lydia Wolfe: Education 2012-2013, Apara Sharma: Education 2019-2020, Sebastian Alejandro Echeverri: Events 2017-2017, Anonymous: Visitor Services 2019-2020, Anonymous: Visitor Services 2013-2020, Blaze Larson: Special Events/Visitor Services 2017-2019, Joe Wos: Education 1990-2009″

Museum Response:

“Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh is aware of an open letter that raises questions about the museum’s operations and the difficult decisions that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make. We can assure our members, visitors, partners, and the public that we are committed to continuing our mission, of spreading joy, creativity, and curiosity for children and their families, and that all of our focus is on providing the best interactions possible for staff and guests in any and all experiences with our team.

This pandemic has had a major impact on our operations and staffing model. We are heartbroken that it has become necessary to let go of our furloughed staff.

We realize how emotional and difficult this time has been for our employees past and present. We are regularly gathering and reviewing feedback internally and externally with the goal of improving the organization and the museum experience. This has become even more important with COVID-19 and the issues the entire world is facing around racial and social justice. As we have reviewed the most recent feedback in the open letter, we are reminded of our ongoing commitments to listening and improving, however we are also disheartened to see so many inaccuracies, unattributed quotes, false claims, and misleading statements.

We can agree and admit that no one is perfect and we keep that in mind as we set out every day to create experiences for our staff, artists, visitors, and partners that are positive and beneficial. We are working on identifying opportunities for expanding our commitment to equity and access for all of our visitors, staff, and partners in the most transparent way possible. We are also focused on doing the work to continue our Museum at Home and virtual / online experiences along with planning to reopen our buildings. This includes bringing back our staff in phases as we reopen and continuing to have conversations across staff, partners, and the community to make progress so that we can carry forward in serving the children of this neighborhood, this city, this region, and beyond.

For anyone who has questions or concerns, we encourage you to contact us directly at hi@pittsburghkids.org.”

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