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High-Ranking SFMOMA Employee to Leave During Ongoing Reckoning

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SFMOMA. (Beyond My Ken/Wiki CC)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art announced Monday that Nan Keeton, the museum’s deputy director of external relations since 2013, will step down from her position as of July 2. Keeton’s departure follows weeks of discussions both public and internal about the museum’s commitment to diversity and equity following the death of George Floyd and nationwide uprisings for racial justice.

On May 30, the museum posted an image on social media of artist Glenn Ligon’s work (they weren’t the only institution to do so), including a quote from Ligon but no statement from the museum itself. Taylor Brandon, a former SFMOMA communications associate, commented on the Instagram post, later telling KQED, “You can’t use the work of Black artists to make a statement you should make. You can’t stand behind the work of Black people to do the work you need to do inside.”

When the museum deleted Brandon’s comment and disabled comments on the post, screenshots shared by SFMOMA’s labor union, OPEIU Local 29, spread through the Bay Area arts community, inciting outcry on social media. Brandon connected with the Nure Collective, a Bay Area group of Black artists who had been commissioned by the museum to create content for SFMOMA’s “#MuseumFromHome” initiative, to issue a seven-point list of demands on June 2. Among them was a demand for “SFMOMA [to] seriously consider replacing upper-level Marketing + Communications staff who have proven their racial bias.”

That same day, Keeton explained in an SFMOMA staff meeting that the museum removed Brandon’s comment because it deemed the remarks “potential threats” that “target individuals.” In a conversation with KQED, Brandon described Keeton’s statement as a bad-faith misreading of her comments.

When asked if Keeton was stepping down in response to these events and the ongoing pressure on the museum, SFMOMA’s spokesperson did not respond.

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In recent weeks, the number of groups calling for change at SFMOMA has grown. Brandon and the Nure Collective have joined forces with CTRL+SHFT Collective, Heavy Breathing, the Prison Arts Project and Work More! to form No Neutral Alliance—groups all initially included in SFMOMA’s #MuseumFromHome program. (All have since requested their work be removed from SFMOMA’s website.)

A multiracial group of former SFMOMA workers calling themselves XSFMOMA issued their own open letter on June 23, calling on the museum to fulfill the demands made by Taylor and No Neutral Alliance.

“We’ve heard the news of Nan Keeton’s resignation,” No Neutral Alliance wrote in a statement to KQED. “The No Neutral Alliance maintains our list of demands from the letter released June 12, none of which have been fulfilled upon the resignation of Keeton.”

SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra has yet to meet with members of No Neutral Alliance, which is now sharing annotated screenshots of their email correspondence on Instagram. SFMOMA’s own Instagram account has been inactive since June 4, when the museum posted an apology from Benezra claiming full responsibility for the deletion of Brandon’s comment.

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