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Art Institute of Chicago “Fires” All 100 Volunteer Museum Guides For Being Mostly White Women

Art Institute of Chicago “Fires” All 100 Volunteer Museum Guides For Being Mostly White Women

“The fired docents were offered a two-year free pass to the museum as gratitude for their previous service.”

In their hilariously entitled “Indocency on Display at the Art Institute of Chicago,” the Wall Street Journal reported on the purge of the institute’s 100 mostly white, mostly female volunteer museum guides (archive link).

The Art Institute of Chicago crouches on Michigan Avenue, defending the surrounding Grant Park from the city’s skyscrapers crowding in. Spreading over more than a million square feet, the museum has almost 300,000 works of art. And zero docents.

In museum-speak, a docent is a trained volunteer who greets visitors and guides them through the collection, filling in details of the artists’ lives, speaking to the visual elements of the work on display and adding art-history context. The Art Institute used to have more than 100 docents, 82 of them active, until Veronica Stein, an executive director of learning and engagement, sent a Sept. 3 email canning all of them. In gratitude for their long, unpaid service—averaging 15 years each—the Art Institute offered the involuntarily retired guides a two-year free pass to the museum.

The apparent problem was that the Art Institute docents were mostly older white women of above-average financial means and with plenty of time on their hands. The institute needs to go to a more professional model, Ms. Stein explained, “in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility.”

The move strikes me as rather strange. Have they already hired all these minorities and lower income museum tour guides with detailed knowledge of art and art history? I say, “hired” because, obviously, they won’t find volunteers among the middle and lower/working classes, so they will need to pay them. If so, how much? At full- or part-time? If the latter, should they get away with avoiding paying full benefits to these new diversity, inclusion, and equity hires?

The training for these (formerly) volunteer positions sounds pretty intensive for some random person dragged off the streets of Chicago.

Fox News reports:

The fired docents were offered a two-year free pass to the museum as gratitude for their previous service.

The institute is one of America’s oldest and largest museums, with its docent program launching in 1961 as part of an initiative of the Woman’s Board and the Junior League of Chicago.

The docents sent a letter on Sept. 13 detailing the staff “engaged in eighteen months of twice-a-week training to qualify as a docent, five years of continual research and writing to meet the criteria of 13 museum content areas, and monthly and bi-weekly trainings to further educate ourselves with the materials, processes and cultural context” of the museum’s pieces.

“It was nearly a full-time job,” Dietrich Klevorn, a docent since 2012, told the Wall Street Journal. “We had to spend a lot of time physically in the museum studying works of art, researching, putting tours together.”

“We had to be very comprehensive about everything as we talked with them, moving through the space,” she said. Klevorn was the only docent to speak on the record to WSJ, after the museum reportedly requested they not speak to the media. The institute told Fox News later Sunday that “the museum did not ask the docents not to speak to media,” but that the docent council decided to decline further comment to the press.

It sounds like there will be a shift not to a more diverse volunteer staff but to those annoying pre-recorded tours everyone ignores.

Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune reportedly lashed out at the institute for its “elitism.”

Fox News continues:

The Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board even hit back at the museum’s decision, calling Stein’s termination letter to the docents as “weaselly.”

“Why not invest some time in recruiting new, diverse docents? Why not grow the corps in such a way that it’s refreshed? Why not help docents who need help with expenses or child care? Why not have a hybrid model, at least until the current docents exit?” the board wrote in its Sept. 27 opinion piece.

“Instead of trashing volunteerism as inherently elitist, why not avow and attest to its ongoing value as a vital part of necessary diversification and cultural change?”

For its part, according to Fox News, the institute is claiming that this move has been in the works for 12 years and that no one was actually fired, the docent program was simply put on hold.

. . . . Robert Levy, chairman of the Art Institute, defended the decision to fire the docents days later in his own op-ed, and said that the plan to do so had been in the works for 12 years.

The Art Institute told Fox News in comment on Sunday that they “have not fired anyone.”

“We thought we were being very clear when outlining our plan, but somehow this has been twisted into unfounded accusations of reverse racism resulting in lewd threats against our staff. We’re simply pausing a volunteer educator program and would never want to diminish the contributions they have made. This should not be the roots of a culture war,” a spokesperson for the institute said.



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Wow. How far we have strayed from MLK’s vision.

    fscarn in reply to Ben Kent. | October 17, 2021 at 5:37 pm

    “The Art Institute told Fox News in comment on Sunday that they ‘have not fired anyone.'”

    True, but only because they were volunteers.

    What did you want to see me about, Mr. Leland?
    Kramer, I’ve.. been reviewing your work.. Quite frankly, it stinks.
    Well, I ah.. been having trouble at home and uh.. I mean, ah, you know, I’ll work harder, nights, weekends, whatever it takes..
    No, no, I don’t think that’s going to, do it, uh. These reports you handed in. It’s almost as if you have no business training at all..
    I don’t know what this is supposed to be!
    Well, I’m uh, just–tryin’ to get ahead..
    Well, I’m sorry. There’s just no way that we could keep you on.
    I don’t even really work here!
    That’s what makes this so difficult.

I hope they form a group and post an ad somewhere.

Next time I’m in Chicago, I would love to actually hire and pay money to at least one of them for a refresher tour through the AIC.

There has to be minorities on the dole with enough time to do the study and hours for the none paying job.

The guides won’t be needed after the cultural revolution bonfire.


They will have to hire PAID staffers to replace UNPAID volunteers – just to signal their neo-racism. $ 4.8 MILLION dollars per year (based on assuming 80 positions at $60,000 each (salary + benefits) ). $48 million over a 10-year period.

Think of all the art programs for kids that could have been funded with that money.

I would cease donations to the Art Institute of Chicago until new leadership is installed.


    henrybowman in reply to Ben Kent. | October 17, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    They’re not going to hire paid staffers. They’re going to buy prerecorded tours and earphones.

      This was my guess, too. What a stupid move.

        It’s not stupid. It’s the PERFECT opportunity for graft and paybacks. Volunteers cut into that.

        Politician puts pork in a bill to steer $5 million to the museum for ‘tour development’. Museum ‘hires’ hires politician’s relative for a couple hundred thousand a year in the newly created ‘tour development engineer’ position, who then pays a ‘consultant’ family member of said politician $500,000 for ‘consulting’ on how to ‘modernize’ the tours, then hires and pays a union shop a few million to develop tour recordings that are pathetic quality compared to the original FREE volunteers.

        Improving quality is not the goal of crap like this. Creating opportunity for graft and kickbacks is.

        The narrator will be Al Shaprton. No one will understand him.

          If so – they will end up paying a narrator many thousands of dollars to narrate a few hundred exhibits and art pieces. Plus thousands more for about 10,000 recording devices they will need. Plus pay to maintain and replace them over the years. Altogether – likely to be hundreds of thousands of dollars at best.

          To replace people who volunteered and who were likely older and felt a sense of worth by contributing to society.

          So stupid to let these volunteers go.

          henrybowman in reply to | October 18, 2021 at 11:39 am

          On 4th of July holidays, their guest narrator will be Joe Biden, who will make patrons nostalgic for Al Sharpton.

          Antifundamentalist in reply to | October 18, 2021 at 12:59 pm

          If they were bright enough to get Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson to do the narration, they might be on to something.

      The Friendly Grizzly in reply to henrybowman. | October 17, 2021 at 11:22 pm

      Who will they hire to do the narrating? 50 Cent.? Snoop Dog?

2smartforlibs | October 17, 2021 at 4:15 pm

Do they not understand volunteeer?

    They are almost certainly all wealthy white liberal women.

    I have no sympathy.

    Next up, removal of much of the art created by white men.

      Sanddog in reply to JHogan. | October 18, 2021 at 2:03 pm

      I imagine quite a few of them are wealthy white liberal women. Many docents are also retired white conservative women. These women generously give their time and their money. Now that AIC doesn’t want their time, will they cease asking for their money?

E Howard Hunt | October 17, 2021 at 4:17 pm

Ms. Stein has also shared that she will de-colonialize the museum by destroying all 300,000 works of art. Not to worry though: Hunter Biden has agreed to devote the better part of a weekend painting 300,000 new works to replace them. In addition, Hunter has reached out to his contacts in the exotic dance and call industries, and has found a ready supply of new docents who have agreed not only to not charge the. museum, but will donate a percentage of their private tour receipts.

    President Biden says Ms Stein is fully qualified to fill the next available vacancy in his cabinet whatever it might happen to be.

      CapeBuffalo in reply to UserP. | October 17, 2021 at 9:09 pm

      Perhaps she can take Politburo member Buttigieg’s place, He has indicated that he is near retirement age and would like to spend more time with his family

“In gratitude for their long, unpaid service—averaging 15 years each—the Art Institute offered the involuntarily retired guides a two-year free pass to the museum.”

Here’s guessing that these folks have already seen pretty much all of the museum that they had ever been curious to see.

    CNN reports the line to fill vacancies for unpaid service at the Art a mile land a half long and stretches all the way to to Jussie Smollet’s old apartment. They were going to show video at 11 but the security camera is still broken.

    dunce1239 in reply to henrybowman. | October 18, 2021 at 10:54 pm

    New black and minority artists will replace the old masters (nasty word) and the old art works will go into a basement. No one will pay for the building maintenance and it will slowly fall apart., then some white people will buy up the art works in the basement to give them money to keep the doors open.

Most or all of people who got fired know that place better than the person who fired them.

    p in reply to p. | October 18, 2021 at 6:34 am

    Apologies for the bad grammar.

    Sanddog in reply to p. | October 18, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    This is true. They have a much better working knowledge of the permanent collection than paid curatorial or educational staff who are constantly rotating in and out.

They’re making it more gunfire-friendly.

It’s past time for responsible, civic minded people living in blue enclaves begin to understand what episodes like this mean; your presence is unwelcome. Even when you are donating your time. All the blue enclave rulers want is your money and your submission, your input isn’t desired.

When they demonstrate through actions that they hold you in disdain, going so far as to ‘fire’ long-term volunteer staff based on some sort of artificial ideological construct about race and class, they are telling you they don’t value your contribution or your presence. I would suggest an exit to greener pastures before they devalue your very existence.

    Think38 in reply to CommoChief. | October 18, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    Don’t value it? No, they don’t want to be associated with you because of your race. Whites Not Welcome! is what it says.

We need to start using the tax code as a threat against behavior like this. We all know the DOJ doesn’t care about racial discrimination that doesn’t suite their narrative.

Enough defense. Suggesting tax for this kind of behavior forces Democrats to defend that kind of behavior changing them from inquisitor to heretic to people listening.

Subotai Bahadur | October 17, 2021 at 9:10 pm

I’ve been in Chicago a couple of times. There were only three things that could have induced me to return. One WAS a certain restaurant that sadly is there no longer. One was a certain ship that is open to tours that I would love to see. And the third was the Art Institute of Chicago, which I would have liked to visit again. The place is a hellhole and really not part of America. I guess that I can miss seeing that ship.

Subotai Bahadur

If I had been a financial supporter of the museum, I would have to think long and hard about continuing my support.

    wonder how much of the art was donated by the ‘wealthy’ families of the volunteers, if so can they take it back

      Nanoushka in reply to ronk. | October 18, 2021 at 8:38 am

      Not just art but financial donations. The docents may also have included the art Institute in their estate planning and will now update their wills and trusts to do otherwise.

      Their fundraising will likely take a big hit for it’s likely the docents, their families and friends who make big donations.

    Stuytown in reply to Deborahhh. | October 18, 2021 at 3:12 am

    My thinking would be very short and very easy.

    Sanddog in reply to Deborahhh. | October 18, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    I hope the board of trustees is ready for the financial fallout.

We’ve moved from preferential hiring and promotion of women and minorities since the 1970s to…

— preferential hiring and promotion of women and minorities on steroids: merit, accomplishment, experience no longer matter
— firing based on white skin color and XY chromosomes.

Here’s the irony and the unintended consequence of these idiotic and moronic and blatantly racist and misandrist policies. Because reality and market forces cannot be denied,

Twenty or so years from now being a white male will become almost a sure sign of competence and probably excellence when looking for work based on knowledge and experience and skill set. Because A) to succeed as a white male will have become much harder than it is for anyone else, and B) you will be taking a much bigger chance of hiring an incompetent moron when hiring a women or minority not knowing if they achieved their work status thru merit, accomplishment, and competence or simply because of gender and/or skin color.

Need a lawyer, doctor, accountant, personal finance manager, professional business manager, someone to fix/setup your PC and/or home network, etc? You’ll know who to look for.

Also, the rule for white males making the questionable and ill advised career choice of working for medium to large corporations will be to move on, without hesitation, after two or three years if not promoted. And leave sooner, as soon as possible, if passed over for a female or minority promoted primarily due to gender and/or skin color. It will become the only way to advance.

    Ben Kent in reply to JHogan. | October 17, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    It is already happening. Small business people say that each hire is critical for them because a small business cannot afford to make a hiring mistake. They see the work habits of millennials and disruption of the SJWs.

    Guess what candidates they look for when hiring ?

    henrybowman in reply to JHogan. | October 18, 2021 at 11:52 am

    Yes, all that.. except that hiring white males will be cheap and easy, because they will all be held in grail slavery.
    Just think back to when you needed a sun-resistant worker with a strong back. Only one choice, really. Did they get to enjoy their “superiority?”

Antifundamentalist | October 17, 2021 at 10:39 pm

“older white women” – any change of bypassing the politically acceptable racial and class discrimination and homing in on ageism?

“the institute is claiming that this move has been in the works for 12 years and that no one was actually fired”

12 years?

I’d bet no one heard of this plan for 12 years either. How is it they planned this for 12 years and have no replacements in place or even those recorded audio tours ready to go?

I’m curious about how many of the docents are liberal voting democrats. My guess is most. How many eyes does this open? Probably few.

    Subotai Bahadur in reply to ALPAPilot. | October 18, 2021 at 6:06 pm

    It will open a couple of eyes in reference to the museum. BUT, these Leftists will still keep the true faith in the State in all other things.

    Subotai Bahadur

DeweyEyedMoonCalf | October 18, 2021 at 5:49 am

If you were managing a large valuable collection, and wanted to Loot it, step number 1 would be to get rid of anyone who knows what is supposed to be there. Step 2 would be to begin putting valuable items into storage, or sending them out for restoration or conservation. And they would never be seen in public again.

Anywhere you go, the arts councils, be it local or national, are all run by a bunch of elitists. The average person has no interest in these leeches who’s tax paid funding is taken from hard working long suffering individuals that can’t afford the burden.

    stevewhitemd in reply to charlesw04. | October 18, 2021 at 8:45 am

    Back a hundred years ago, the leeches were the children of the wealthy who contributed to the museums, symphonies, and operas. It was quietly understood that Ms. Buffy could have a position at the museum in return for Daddy Bigbucks’ contribution. That connection holds true today, but the Bigbucks families aren’t contributing to museums so much as they are social justice NGOs.

    Buffy, of course, follows the money…

      RandomCrank in reply to stevewhitemd. | October 18, 2021 at 7:47 pm

      No doubt there’s a lot of truth in that, but you’re too cynical with respect to the docents. From direct personal experience, those women were wonderful. They really knew their stuff, and never once did I feel even a hint of snobbery on account of my lack of formal art education.

      They explained things in a way I could understand, and I walked out of there feeling better than I did when I entered. If Mrs. Buffy had the inside track because her husband dropped a suitcase or four full of cash, well, it wasn’t just that. The Mrs. Buffys who took me through the place several times were smart, educated, and gracious, or were giving an Oscar-level imitation.

      In particular, every one of them who showed me around knew the museum like the back of their hand. They were thrilled to be there, and took obvious pleasure in turning the light on for someone like me. I will always be grateful for what was, and sadly no longer will be.

As someone with a BFA (double major in Design/Art History) I am particularly dismayed. I grew up in Chicago enjoying numerous trips to this museum.
I am stunned at the creative level of imaginary offenses these people can come up with.

    RandomCrank in reply to rebelgirl. | October 18, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    I grew up in Milwaukee, and no visit to Chicago was complete without visits to the Museum of Science and Industry and, starting in my teenage years, to the Art Institute. A docent (yep, a cultured white lady who clearly wasn’t poor) walked me through a wing and showed me, someone who’d never studied art, why Rembrandt mattered so much. And now the Art Institute hates white people. I’m glad to have visited there when I did, because I will never return.

The racial animus behind the firing decision seems obvious, from the museum’s own statements. Given that they weren’t employees, can the fired volunteers sue? My knowledge of federal labor law is minimal — I’d welcome insights from someone better-versed in this stuff.

QUESTION: What is the % of the volunteers are of various races and what is the % of the visitors walking in the door?

If the %s are pretty much the same, there was no problem, RIGHT?

Steven Brizel | October 19, 2021 at 9:39 am

This is another addition to my increasingly long list that is governed by the rule that it goes woke, let it go broke

I briefly dated a intensely feminist leftist woman. In my defense, I didn’t know she had become an intensely feminist leftist woman; we were both from kali and I ran into her in D.C. when we were both living on the east coast. Let’s just say she had changed a lot since high school.

During the course of probably one of the most painful days of my life we went to an art museum. And there was an incredibly intricate Venetian clock, and right next to it a crude wooden African ceremonial mask. The contrast couldn’t have been greater yet they were being presented as if they were of equal artistic quality.

When I was 12 I whittled finer art objects than that mask. And I said so. She turns to me and says, “Maybe they couldn’t do any better.”

Oh, OK. Here’s your participation prize. Some con artist in Africa is knocking a dozen of these masks out a day to sell to gullible tourists as priceless antiques and one of those gullible tourists puts it on display in a Washington D.C. art museum because, really, we can’t expect much in the way of art work from Africa.

She couldn’t see how condescending she was. I can’t be 100% sure since this was back in the early ’90s and I promptly, enthusiastically, lost track of her. But apparently she’s in charge of an art museum in Chicago.