MOCA Detroit Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder Has Been Fired Following Allegations of Abusive Behavior by Dozens of Former Workers

The board conducted a third-party investigation into allegations of improper behavior.

Elysia Borowy-Reeder. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

The board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) has fired Elysia Borowy-Reeder, its chief curator and executive director, after some 70 former employees accused her of abusive and racist behavior.

The board announced its decision, effective immediately, this afternoon.

“The board’s vote to remove our executive director is a painful but first step of a course correct for MOCAD,” board chair Elyse Foltyn said in a statement. “We have tried to deliver on diversity, equity, and inclusion since our inception. However, it is clear we need to do more, better, and faster.”

Borowy-Reeder had led the museum since 2013, after serving as the founding director of the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh in North Carolina.

The MOCAD board suspended her earlier this month, and put Borowy-Reeder on administrative leave pending a third-party investigation into the complaints levied against her.

Exterior view of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2017. Photo courtesy of MOCAD.

Exterior view of Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 2017. Photo courtesy of MOCAD.

A group called MOCAD Resistance sent the board a letter on July 3, alleging that Borowy-Reeder had committed “various racist micro-aggressions, mis-gendering, violent verbal outbursts, and the tokenization of marginalized artists, teen council members, and staff.”

Among other demands, the letter demanded Borowy-Reeder be removed from her post.

The complaint came on the heels of the departure of three Black curators in just eight months. Larry Ossei-Mensah was hired as senior curator in September 2018, and resigned the following November. Ford Foundation curatorial fellow Maceo Keeling resigned in April after just three months on the job. And Ossei-Mensah’s successor, Jova Lynne, resigned after allegedly being pressured to work while she was technically furloughed during the museum’s shut down.

All three signed MOCAD Resistance’s letter. The resignation of a fourth curator, Ford fellow Tizziana Baldenebro, who cited Borowy-Reeder’s “outright racist behavior” as the reason for her departure, was the impetus for the group’s action.

In response to the allegations, Indigenous-led artist collective New Red Order delayed the opening of its MOCAD exhibition, “New Red Order: Crimes Against Reality,” planned for July 9, calling for the museum to meet the letter’s demands.

MOCAD also saw its curator-at-large, Jens Hoffmann, resign in 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment. He was succeeded by Ossei-Mensah.

“I was deeply disappointed to learn this morning from I press release that I was terminated from my contract by the MOCAD Board of Directors after an investigation I disagree with, and was not interviewed for. Transparency is public, and the investigation should be disclosed to the public,” Borowy-Reeder said in a statement shared with Artnet News.

“I take the workplace violations that have been made to heart, and am profoundly sorry for any harm I caused,” she continued. “I am sincerely committed to the dignity of racial justice, to healing, and to accountability.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated on August 17 to include Borowy-Reeder’s statement.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.