Art Museum hires its first director of diversity and inclusion

Philadelphia Art Museum

People gather on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has hired its first director of diversity, equity, and inclusion and access. The newly created senior management position will be filled by Alphonso Atkins Jr., who is currently working as chief diversity officer at the University of South Carolina Upstate. He will begin his new role on Aug. 16.

Atkins will create and execute strategies to both develop a more inclusive and diverse internal operation — including training for staff and board members, and decisions on museum vendors and supplies — as well as be part of the museum’s public-facing decisions, including public programs and curatorial materials.

“Alphonso comes to the museum at a very important moment,” Art Museum director and CEO Timothy Rub said in a statement. “Over the past year, we have engaged in a great deal of introspection, discussion, and staff training as we have sought to strengthen our own workplace culture and, at the same time, continue to build our capacity to engage and collaborate effectively with diverse communities to develop exhibitions, educational programs, and other initiatives.”

The museum’s board chair, Leslie Ann Miller, said she is “delighted to have found in Alphonso a proven leader.”

“Our board of trustees recognizes the urgency and duty to respond to the racial and social inequities that are still embedded in museums and other public institutions, and it is committed to change,” Miller said in a statement.

During the past year, since the pandemic shutdown, issues of access and equity drove staff members to form a union. A perceived racial bias and the privileging of class and higher education in the museum’s programming had mobilized a successful unionization effort, with a contract still in negotiation.

“We’re all excited that this position was filled and look forward to working with Mr. Atkins,” said Art Museum employee Adam Rizzo, speaking on behalf of the union.

Originally from St. Louis, Atkins has advanced degrees in both theater and law, and has spent much of his career in colleges and universities, as both an instructor and administrator.

In addition to winning a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for teaching world religions and culture, Atkins was the director of institutional equity at Community College of Rhode Island and the equal opportunity and Title IX coordinator at the University of South Carolina Upstate, and well as that university’s chief diversity officer.

He is also an accomplished cook, having been certified a culinarian by Le Cordon Bleu North America. This will be Atkins’ first job in Philadelphia.

“The PMA is inextricably linked with the identity of Philadelphia, and as the city evolves, so too must the museum,” said Atkins. “There is a genuine desire to reimagine the PMA and its impact, identity, and influence as an institution committed to equity and inclusive excellence for all Philadelphians.”

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