The Art Institute of Chicago fires all 122 of its (unpaid and volunteer) docents because they aren’t sufficiently “diverse”

October 9, 2021 • 11:30 am

This is a story that, for obvious reasons, has gotten almost no airplay in Chicago, and none nationally, with no reporting in the major media. So let me tell you about it.

The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), one of the world’s finest art museums, harbors (or rather, harbored) 122 highly skilled docents, 82 active ones and 40 “school group greeters.” All are volunteers and are all unpaid. Their job is to act as guides to the Museum’s collection of 300,000 works, which they explain to both adults and schoolchildren. I’ve seen them in action at the Museum, and they’re terrific.

Despite the lack of remuneration—they do this to be helpful and because they love art—their training to be docents is extremely rigorous. First, they have to have two training sessions per week for eighteen months, and then “five years of continual research and writing to meet the criteria of 13 museum content areas” (quote from the docents’ letter to the Director of the AIC). On top of that, there’s monthly and biweekly training on new exhibits. Then there are the tours themselves, with a docent giving up to two one-hour tours per day for 18 weeks of the year and a minimum of 24 one-hour tours with adults/families.  Their average length of service: 15 years. There are other requirements listed by the Docents Council in the ChicagoNow column below (first screenshot).

Many of the volunteers—though not all—are older white women, who have the time and resources to devote so much free labor to the Museum. But the demographics of that group weren’t appealing to the AIC, and so, in late September, the AIC fired all of them, saying they’d be replaced by smaller number of hired volunteers  workers who will be paid $25 an hour. That group will surely meet the envisioned diversity goals.

This is entirely a matter of race and “optics,” though you wouldn’t easily discern that by reading the back-and-forth communications between the AIC and the docents. The latter, of course, strenuously object to being let go, and in their letter to the AIC point out their many contributions to the Museum. (The AIC, in a hamhanded gesture, offered them two-year free passes to the AIC as a measly “thank you”.)

The lack of ethnic diversity apparently comes from the fact that this is volunteer work that takes a ton of time, and disadvantaged minorities aren’t often blessed with the time or resources for such work. The AIC says they’ve tried to diversity the docents but have apparently failed (listen to the radio show below).

It’s all a mess, but I know this: it’s grossly unfair and inimical to the education of museum-goers. More than 1200 years of work put in by the current docents, and all that expertise: gone in an instant.  Ask yourself first, do they need to diversity? I don’t know the answer, though surely some minority docents might have different points of view about art, a reason implied by the AIC’s response in the Tribune. (But ask yourself what the reaction would be if all the docents were black or Hispanic and they hired whites to get a “white point of view”? Personally, I’m not sure race is crucial in giving expert talks about the Museum’s exhibits.) But the AIC did try to diversity the docents—and failed. They’re to be commended for that because, after all, surely it would look better to have a diverse group of docents. They just weren’t able, given the demographics, to accomplish that.

What can they do? My own suggestion is to keep the docents, but as they retire replace some of them with members of minority groups. The problem with that, though, is that they tried doing this already, and apparently couldn’t find appropriate docents. I think the solution of replacing the docents with a smaller and more “diverse” group of paid guides, however, is not only insulting to the docents, but a bad move for the Museum’s reputation and especially for the education of those who go to the AIC. There will have to be many fewer tours, and with a much less well-trained group of guides.

If readers have a solution to this problem, assuming it is a problem pressing enough to fire every docent, then please give your suggestions below.

The curious thing about all this is that it wasn’t reported as a primary story by either the Chicago Tribune or WBEZ (the local Public Radio Station), and yet the Trib ran a strong editorial excoriating the AIC for its firings, and WBEZ had a show giving the views of the the President of the Docent Council versus those of of a VP of the AIC. Much of the fallout eventually appeared in the Tribune, but it is likely paywalled for you.

You can read the salient details in the column at ChicagoNow by Dennis Byrne(click on screenshot below). Byrne pulls no punches in his sympathy for the docents and ire at the AIC, but he also includes two documents pivotal in this fracas: the September 3 letter from the AIC’s Woman’s Board Executive Director of Learning and Public Engagement Veronica Stein firing the docents, and the long response of the docent’s council, sent not to Stein but to AIC director James Rondeau. (The AIC didn’t even have the decency to get Rondeau to give the docents their pink slip.)

Read below:

If you want to read the Tribune’s two pieces on the story, they’re here (but probably paywalled): the paper’s long editorial excoriating the AIC for firing the docents (I guess the Trib isn’t all that woke), called “Shame on the Art Institute for summarily canning its volunteer docents,” and a response from Robert Levy, chairman of the AIC board, who argues that the times are a’changing and they need a new demographic, but then dances around the issue of race. He claims that the AIC’s editorial makes serious mistakes, but there’s no smoking gun there.

Finally, there were also several letters to the editor reaming out the AIC for what it did.

The link below will take you to WBEZ’s free 16-minute show in which a moderator interviews both Sarah Guernsey, deputy director and senior vice president for curatorial affairs of the AIC, and Gigi Vaffis, president of Docent Council at Art Institute of Chicago. Again, Guernsey doesn’t have the moxie to explicitly discuss the reason for the firing, and comes off to me as being a weasel.

I could write a lot more about the waste of resources, experience, time, and the dignity of the docents involved in this decision, but you can come to your own conclusion. There are better ways to get diversity than what the AIC did, I’m sure. I can’t say what they are, but I know that this decision not only makes the AIC look really bad, but will in the long run cost it a lot of money in withheld donations. And that’s not to mention the loss in educational potential that goes along with the firing of the docents, thoroughly trained to present and discuss the art.
h/t: Cate

165 thoughts on “The Art Institute of Chicago fires all 122 of its (unpaid and volunteer) docents because they aren’t sufficiently “diverse”

  1. If readers have a solution to this problem, assuming it is a problem …

    It’s not. It would only be a problem if volunteers from minority groups were being turned away for not being white. Somehow, I suspect that’s not happening.

    My solution? Fire whoever made this decision and send apologetic letters to all the docents.

    1. At some point the idea of not excluding qualified people because of race morphed into the idea of positive inclusion based on race alone.

          1. Exactly. However, his dream that someday people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character is not part of the woke (or the KKK’s) lexicon.

      1. Excluding people based on race is literally racist and I will no longer go or donate to this racist organization.

        1. Ditto. I have just e-mailed them from their “contact page” a pointed aviso that neither I nor any of my friends or relatives will be patronizing their institution. My thoughts are certainly not of interest to anyone here, but I also included a comment from an article on the Chicago Now website: “Know what this tells me? That the Art Institute has lost its commitment to its patrons. The Institute is being run for the benefit of the woke bureaucracy that’s now in charge. Nuts to all the tourists who include Chicago on their itinerary because they want to visit the Art Institute. Nuts to the regular Chicagoans and suburbanites who take out memberships because they like to visit frequently, sometimes on the spur of the moment. Nuts to the black and brown Chicago school children who benefited mightily from the docent tours.”

    2. The thought of dismissing anyone who has spent a number of years and their own resources to share in the greatest art of the world because the color of their skin does not fit some social expectation is shocking. I hope they do fire the person who made that decision and send huge apologies with a plea for the experienced volunteer docents to return as well as pay them.

      1. Thank you to the Docents that educated and gave their time and intellect to inform children, tourists and all that love art….for those that want to exclude the museum from their itinerary….please do not! It’s time to remove the board and anyone associated with this ludicrous decision. These “decision makers” are obviously ignorant of the art world or any type of management acumen. Put the Docents in charge, pay them the fired exiting salaries and problem solved! Keeping the existing management group is insulting, racist, ignorant and above all unappreciative to those that gave their time and resources….

    3. > Fire whoever made this decision and send apologetic letters to all the docents.

      With you on that one. I’ve done volunteer work for various organizations my whole life and I would never again give my time —or my money— to an organization that did that.

    4. There are literally hardly any white people that work there as it is! It’s almost ALL young black women. In the time that I had a membership ship there I remember seeing two older white women giving the guided tours. All of the workers who stood guard over the artwork were, I would say over 90% black women. Some Asian men and women, some black men. I don’t remember seeing one white man working there. And I went all of the time.

    5. This article is so biased. The Art Institute is doing this in a move to create more diversity so that the museum reflects the people who come there. Children of Color should be able to see people like themselves.

      The Docents can reapply if they would like. I think this is a wonderful idea. It is not just a color issue as well. They are seeking diversity of all types, age, sex etc. My mom is a decent at the Field and I would 100 percent support doing the same thing there. Diversity needs to be intentional.

      1. My point, which you don’t seem to have grasped, is that I think there should be more diverse docents, but the Art Institute went about doing that in exactly the wrong way (you misspelled “docent”, by the way).

        At any rate, my article is not biased, you can check the facts for yourself, and I delineated my opinion from the facts. On this site you do not insult the host. Clearly you haven’t read the posting rules.

        1. Why the dogmatic devotion to “diversity” as a good thing? Every time someone implements “diversity” it always means the same thing: Not hiring white people (or white men). Why is not hiring people because they’re white acceptable, but firing people because they’re white not?

          1. That conflict occurs only in the minds of those who are not consistent.

            What about more diversity in the NFL? Blacks are present (in very high-paying jobs) to a much larger extent than in the general population. Surely this is an example of systemic racism and must be eradicated by hiring some token white folks?

        2. Agreed that ideally, there should be more diverse docents, but firing those valuable and knowledgable volunteers is not the answer. This isnt a “quick fix” issue. If they really want to change things, AIC should create and and commit to a program of providing opportunities by reaching out to minority students in Chicago area high schools or colleges, recruiting, training and then placing those that value this type of work -it can be a stepping stone to other things-maybe create more of an internship program with it. Have the current docents mentor those students.
          I do see AIC’s behavior as a form of racism, and the paying guests of the Art Institiute are the ones who will suffer. Can you provide a point of contact for AIC so your readers can share objections and opinions directly with them? They will likely only rectify this find a fair solution if they see it as causing a decline in guests and revenue.

      2. You couldn’t be anymore racist if you tried. What do you mean themselves? Shouldn’t we be teaching to see beyond a person’s colour, like you obviously can’t.

      3. Karen,

        Have you ever visited the museum? If you had, you’d see that the only employees there are “not white”.

        The only white people I saw working there (did not know they were volunteers) were a couple of tour guides.

        Your comment saddens me.

        1. Brian, there are plenty of white people who work at the AIC (myself included), and it is admittedly a hierarchical situation. Yes, the security staff is predominantly BIPOC, as is custodial, landscaping, etc. Behind the scenes, administrative, collections and loans, HR, building and facilities, etc., is predominantly white, although there is a “People and Culture” Department now to address equity and inclusion and push for more diversity in the white-collar hiring. I’d say there is probably a good balance in re gender diversity, certainly a lot of folks identifying as women (I can’t believe we have to be this specific now) in positions of responsibility (i.e., blame, as this article makes clear) and authority. For what it’s worth…

      4. Why should someone who is extremely knowledgeable and has done this for 20-30 years have to reapply? Also, how about art-related knowledge and educational skills? Don’t those matter at all? Apparently not, judging from your grammar– “decent at the Field” indeed. Sigh.

        1. Why not have diversity training for the docents. Hire a diversity trainer and have that person train the current docents in the minority perspective and inclusiveness. That person could also be very visible to the tourists by randomly appearing in a group and adding to the perspective.

      5. Is Karen your real name? It is appropriate. If they fired black volunteers and replaced them with paid white workers, it would be on world news. Despicable

        1. Her comment doesn’t correspond to what people normally think of as Karens. In any case, using that term for a particular type of white woman is on par with calling a black guy an Uncle Tom. Or Boy.

          1. I agree with you, and this seems to be an unpopular position. Many women seem to think it is OK to call other women “Karen” as a slur since Karen is white. As you observed, it has become an all-encompassing insult for a white woman one disagrees with. The fact that this is considered acceptable relates back to why it is also assumed acceptable to fire a group of mostly older white women from their docent jobs. After all, they are all rich Karens. Thanks for calling this out.

      6. Do you think after firing all the highly qualified docents because they were white that they’re now going to hire those same white women and pay them? This is nothing more than reverse racism disguised as “diversity” The biggest losers in this is the public who visit there.

      7. When you state that people should be able to “see people like themselves,” how far do you want to take that? Should Black communities have police forces consisting of mostly Black people? Should communities that are mostly white only have white school teachers and white first responders? Should communities that are majority Asian only have mail carriers and Park/Rec workers who are of Asian ethnicity? If we get to a place in this society where people can only identify with others who superficially “look like themselves,” we are finished as a country. Maybe that is the intent.

        1. I don’t think that that was what was meant, but rather that people should see people like themselves as well as other people. In other words, some effort should be put into making the docents more diverse (or at least making sure that discrimination is not the cause of any inequity), but not at the expense of those already there.

      8. How is it “biased”?

        Do you have proof there was a policy systemic within the AIC to discourage or otherwise prevent anybody but “older white women” to become docents? These were purely volunteer positions (w/o complicated pre-requisites, insofar as I can see) and indicates it was as race neutral as possible; whose fault is it that the requisite # of ethnicities (as determined by a shadowy, unaccountable group of bureaucrats) declined to participate.

        “Diversity needs to be intentional.”

        There’s the problem. As racist a statement as I’ve seen today – let me guess, you vote (D), right? In your view, the primary requirement here is to be the ‘correct’ race or ethnicity, with ability or desire much further down the list. The previous docents labored for years (as detailed above) to become commensurately knowledgeable and were NOT compensated, but they were off-loaded in favor of PAYING presumably less-engaged “diverse candidates” to do that same job. It’s outrageous, and I’m sure there are some sharp attorneys in Chicago that might want to explore a discrimination lawsuit.

        And, if I were your mom, I’d sign on to it.

      9. I see…”Children of Color should be able to see people like themselves.” Skin color, not character, experience or knowledge. What a shame blacks are being portrayed as so shallow their vision goes only skin deep.

    6. My suggestion to our museum in Minneapolis (Mia) which is struggling with the same issue: Offer internships to college students studying Art History, Museum Studies, Education. As part of the program they are required to provide tours for two semesters. This will not necessarily provide racial diversity (depends who is enrolled at the college) but it would solve the age diversity problem. The docents can continue their work and act as mentors to the interns.

      1. Great. Fire elderly ppl who want and appreciate a job, and force unappreciative kids into the slots because “Diversity!”

    7. The docents should sue AIC for racial discrimination. Fired qualified, long trained and FREE docents because they are white… The situation is shameful and funny (because there is no replacement , apparently) in the same time

    8. Maybe this is a case for the Supreme Court. Terminating the volunteer educators (docents) with paid employees makes it clear the volunteer educators should have been paid all along. I think severance checks are in order. It’s pathetic to offer them a two-year membership.

      An alternative way forward might be to offer economically disadvantaged candidates educational credits by partnering with local colleges and universities. I would think the AIC would continue to value people who have a deep passion for art despite their economic status or skin color.

      Director Rondeau’s decision shows a failure of imagination… what people won’t do to make themselves popular. Let’s hope he doesn’t decide all the art is too old and white.

        1. Actually fairly diverse. Here is an idea. Rather than filling a seat on an honorary board and writing large checks to do so, get educated in the arts and provide docent tours to the ultimate beneficiary, the students who love these tours.

    1. Or donor base? Perhaps they will start only taking money from diverse donors and turn down money from white people?

  2. Good grief. You know what, AIC? White people are probably grossly over-represented among your donors, as well as visitors. What do you propose to do about that? Turn them away, too — that’ll work!

  3. There is something very defective going on when management of any organization fires volunteer workers. Fire free labor, you must be nuts. If you cannot seem to hire the diverse workers you desire, by all means, let’s fire everyone. The solution solves nothing and confuses everyone. The art institute is in very sad shape.

    1. With that kind of quasi-employment volunteerism, you’d better have a process to dismiss folks who would prefer to continue ‘volunteering’ when they have uncorrectable conflict with your organization’s policies, etc.

      As a career “HR lady” w experience supporting orgs with a combined staff of employees and volunteers. Not saying these volunteers fit that situation AT ALL, so no judgment pls-just verifying that an org’s policy of expectations, at-will-ish application, including separation language is a must. Add an acknowledgment and consent form, annually signed, or however crazy Illinois law seems enforceable. Do we know if those things are already in place? I’d also bet a panel of ten experienced, certified HR folks/employment law legal folks would have chosen one of many suggested ways to address the org’s self-imposed need to cleanse over the action actually taken. No question. Really…none.

  4. Of course the AIC is throwing out educational potential in order to rig more “diversity”, and most importantly Diversity optics, in its staffing. This choice perfectly summarizes the goals of wokeliness throughout the educational world, as witness “ethnomathematics”, the cancelling of advanced classes, and so on. No surprise that the holy trinity of the D, the E, and the I has reached the museum world, notoriously subject to fashion trends. Any day now, we can expect the Museum of Modern Art in NYC to do something about its notorious “White On White” painting by Kazimir Malevich. When somebody reminds the MMA board that Malevich’s school of art was called “supremacism”, the shit will hit the fan.

    1. … diversity in their lowest-ranked employees. You don’t see curators or directors (who actually make art purchasing decisions) being summarily fired to achieve the acclaimed diversity. The board, including it’s new chair, has a mere smattering of brown, but it is very convincingly rich and mostly melanin-challenged.

  5. I am betting this is a move to insulate them against criticism for the overwhelming representation of white, European males in the Art Institute’s collection. If so, we know that it won’t help.

  6. This kind of stuff is becoming endemic in the Arts world. According to the “Music & Musicians” column of the latest issue of Private Eye (as well as its satirical articles, it carries serious ones too):

    Tricky times at Royal Holloway, University of London, where Professor JP Harper Scott has resigned from the music department citing the rise of a dogmatic mode of thinking that would downgrade Beethoven, Wagner et al. in what he calls the “frankly absurd belief” that if you stop valuing the greats of the Imperial past, you “somehow materially improve current living conditions for the economically, socially, religiously or racially underprivileged”. The professor has had enough and is leaving by his own choice.

    Others in the music world, however, find themselves forced out by similar attempts at reform. English Touring Opera has just told half its regular freelance players, some of them working with ETO for 20 years, that they won’t be booked next season because they’re white and need to be replaced by a more ethnically diverse ensemble. ETO claimed it was acting in accordance with Arts Council England policy; ACE said it had no such policy. The Musicians Union is now campaigning on their behalf.

    At the Spitalfields Festival, a well-qualified musician was turned down for an advertised job with a note that said: “I’d like to see if I could offer this opportunity to someone from a minoritized background, their availability allowing.”

  7. Madness, and surely will do the institution far more harm, for far longer (in terms of lost donations from patrons and a lingering bitterness in the mouth of those who used to love going there) than the short-term fix for a non-problem that this represents. As with all similar attempts to force change in arts organizations because people are too impatient to wait for it to happen organically, these are decisions made by people who place no value on excellence and expertise — they simply don’t care about the results. The mystery is how such people, whose predecessors used to have a sense of guardianship for those values in the institutions they served, have managed to get into positions of power within them. Did they always not care, and got their jobs by pretending? Or are they simply so overwhelmed by the zeitgeist they’ve given up caring?

  8. Come to think of it, the AIC’s abolition of volunteer docents is such a perfect expression of wokeliness that we can expect it to spread to other volunteer functions throughout the cultural world. After all, volunteers have the time to volunteer their services, and thus they do not represent all strata of society equally, thus violating the principle of Equity.

    The only kind of voluntarism that fulfills the principle is the coerced kind, like the way students in the old USSR were required to “volunteer” to carry out harvest work on collective farms. Accordingly, future steps in wokely cultural evolution are easy to foresee. Cultural organizations such as museums, performing arts centers, concert series, book clubs, etc., will replace all volunteers with paid staff, selected along the lines of minutely specified racial and class quotas. At the same time, local DEI committees will enforce mandatory “volunteer” staffs to handle maintenance functions in their offices, like sweeping the floors and cleaning the restrooms

    1. Your comment reminds me of my observation of the racial makeup of Berkeley public schools when our child enrolled. We were denied access to the school down the street and instead had to drive her 15 minutes into the hills (away from our work commute) to meet their quotas. Check out the racial pie charts on Good Schools .com. Each primary school is bizarrely a replica of every other. And yes, it goes without saying that all the programs for advanced learners are long gone. Parents of kids starving for more math are livid and the new (at the time) superintendent was as baffled as they were.

  9. Wow.
    In a former life, I was a docent for a year at the San Diego Natural History Museum. The technical training required was not even close to what is required at the AIC. I loved it, and the other people (pretty much all retirees who loved science and nature) were the nicest people you’d ever meet. I couldn’t stay on since the commute was pretty long and it took too much time for this working stiff.

    I can recommend to anyone who has the time to volunteer to do this at your local museum. The museum would appreciate it. Well, one would hope so!

  10. Thanks Jerry, agreed that it is “curious” that the newspapers and WBEZ didn’t cover this story when it happened, and only responded when it became a thing. It’s very strange that the Trib ran such a fiery editorial, and didn’t do a follow-up news story.

    What I can’t get over is how easy and obvious the answer could have been: Keep the docents, add this new program of paid volunteers which will presumably be more diverse. Win-win all around. Instead, AIC chose to literally fire all the docents, and will have no one to replace them for quite some time. From the time table in Veronica Stein’s letter, if memory serves, they hope to have a “small” number of new paid volunteer docents in place for 2022, and then “grow” the group. But the intensive training necessary to be able to knowledgeably talk about the collections is such that there’s no way the small number of initial paid volunteers will be in any way ready compared to the fired docents, though given time the new people will grow into the job with the requisite hours to study and practice. Why deprive AIC visitors of experienced tour leaders for that time period? Why deprive the new paid volunteers of the benefit of training with the docents?

    AIC are truly idiots. If they’d played this right, they could have used the docents to train their replacements, then fire them.

    1. What is a “paid volunteer”? If one is being paid $25 an hour to do a task, then one is not, by definition, a volunteer. So I thought. Is part of their work unpaid, and part paid? Is that legal, to be a paid employee but partly an unpaid volunteer? Is it legal for the institution to hire the replacement docents based on skin color? This sets a terrible precedent. It is also ageist and sexist.

      1. If you get paid, you are an employee. It is illegal to require employees to perform unpaid work outside the scope of their paid work. There is no such thing as “paid volunteers.”

      1. If they could pay the new “diverse” “volunteers”, then they probably could have been paying the older white women this whole time!! Boy the ticks me off.
        The solution was to keep them and start paying them. Diversity will come later. Don’t hire a less qualified person just because they represent diversity. And that’s what they would be doing. And I say they would be less qualified because they will put them in this position quickly, without putting them through the training and time spent the the white women had to do. Experiences will suffer for the guests. And the price of admission will go up.

    2. Exactly this. The AIC doesn’t seem to have a diversity problem. It has an unpaid worker problem. In other words, it has addicted itself to trading prestige for labor which excludes all but the wealthy and/or comfortably retired from doing the job. Your solution makes sense. Have two tracks of docents, volunteers and paid. Given the valuable experience of volunteers, have them train the paid docents. Possibly have the paid docents specialize in particular areas so their training requirements aren’t so onerous. Finally, they should hire and recruit based on targets not quotas. Partner with art and history education departments, promote Summer and part-time junior docent positions to high-school and undergrad students, etc. to create a pipeline of awareness and stream of potential talent.

      1. That’s always going to require racism to make work.

        Obviously their are more white people interested in these jobs. Their going to be forced to choose who gets the paid job based on their skin color (even if the white person is more disadvantaged).

        And having one group of people paid and one group unpaid doing the same job is never going to work especially when the primary difference between the groups is skin color.

        Theirs no equitable way to fix the issue which doesn’t involve a new racisms.

    3. Someone being paid to do the work is not a volunteer, they are employees. Are they also getting retirement, SS, healthcare etc? If not why not…

    1. Exactly. I remember in 2016-2017 thinking that surely, Trump’s lying and total immorality must leave such a bad taste in voters’ mouths that the Republican brand would be damaged beyond repair. And then I started to see the Woke everywhere doing their utmost to save Trumpism and keep it in power, worlds without end. It takes no oracle of Delphi to tell that making voters choose between seditionists trying to overthrow the constitution, and school teachers making white kids confess their privilege and feel ashamed of their skin color, there would be no contest.

      Now I’m just sick to my stomach more or less all the time.

      1. Yes, Shor, mentioned earlier on this site, is perfectly right, but you formulated it perfectly: “…making voters choose between seditionists trying to overthrow the constitution, and school teachers making white kids confesstheir privilege and feel ashamed of their skin color, there would be no contest.” Indeed!
        Every Democratic politician, Democratic leaning editor, educator or administrator should repeat that 7 times before breakfast.
        And the Woke 77 times.

    2. It probably changed fewer minds than you would think. Ideologues are resistant to change. The problem is that it won’t get people to stop voting left even though this is a huge problem and it’s a cornerstone of mainstream leftist ideology.

      Stop kowtowing to dumb Democrat ideas.

      Stop voting for anyone on the left.

      Stop thinking like a leftist.

        1. “Diversity” is a major, if not the main, platform of today’s Democrat party. The idea of firing white people for being white is one and the same as as the Democrats purposefully hiring based on race and sex. Biden himself vowed to have the most “diverse administration in history.” That means purposefully not hiring whites. The AIC is just a few steps behind.

          Diversity is just wokespeak for anti-whiteness.

          1. There’s little point in arguing about the meaning of words. If you think this idiocy at the AIC equates to “Democrat”, there’s really not much more to be said. You’re certainly wrong about this Democrat, to say nothing of a probable majority of commenters on this site. (Based on surveys our host has held from time to time.)

            1. That’s kind of my point. I understand that most Dems on here find this type of thing to be revolting and at the same time they vote exclusively for the Democratic party that promotes this exact type of thing. The “diversity” shown by the AIC is exactly the same “diversity” the Democratic party campaigns on. There’s a contradiction in decrying these ridiculous acts then supporting the very group that promotes and commits them.

              1. I don’t think that’s right. What is in question is not diversity as a goal, it is the way diversity is defined and the means by which one wants to achieve it. The normal (to me, at least) definitions and desired means differ a great deal from those of the woke zealots. Your assertion that the woke view defines the Democrat view is simply wrong, IMO.

              2. You’re completely right.

                The failure of many people on this site to admit that a large swath of the mainstream left and the party that represents its ideas in the US has, over the years, become anti-western civilisation and racist against white people is really troubling. The same insanity has infected the left in all western democracies as far as I can tell.

                For anybody that cares about western values like human rights, the rule of law (e.g. due process), freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, individual freedoms, science and rationality, etc… and for anyone aware of the absolute horror that communism is, the left in its current post-modern cultural marxism version (CRT, systemic racism, cancel culture, trans ideology, anti-semitism, metoo hysteria, microagressions, cultural appropriation, and all the other nonsense) is at least equally worrying than anything the republican party is proposing, including Trump (who is gone).

                One must really be blinded by ideology (progressivism, atheism or whatever) for not seeing the profoundly subversive nature of the current leftwing project to dismantle western societies by taking advantage of its goodness and morality to induce guilt and shame in order to build on its ashes an ill-defined equality of outcome utopia. The whole thing is truly nauseating.

                Before its too late, anyone caring about western civilization should spend more energy combating this toxic and destructive woke ideology than combating conservatism (which, in its classic form, is a perfectly respectable political viewpoint). Stop pretending that “at least it’s not as bad as Trump”. It is certainly as bad as Trump, if not worst. And by the way, any so-called progressives should really cherish western civilization since only in the west do progressive ideas have any chance of being adopted. The moral and cultural relativism nonsense also must stop. The left has gone completely insane. It’s time to jump ship asap.

              3. We’ll, jobla73, you seen unfamiliar with the point of this whole post, which is to decry woke-ism. And, please, stop equating “the left” with woke ideologues. Most of us here are on “the left” and most of us are decrying wokeism.

  11. If they hire minority docents they’ll have to pay them. Can you imagine the Twitter protests if they didn’t?

  12. This is a both/and situation. Yes diversifying your docent pool is a commendable goal. And firing all the perfectly capable volunteer docents you have is not the way to do it. If you had trouble recruiting minority docents before, firing the ones you have isn’t going to fix the problem. Unless they were all actively or passively hostile to minority newcomers, what’s that going to fix? Now you just don’t have any docents? No, it sounds like they just have no clue how to recruit people of color. Like absolutely no idea.

    1. “Yes diversifying your docent pool is a commendable goal.”

      No, it most certainly is not.

      If you look at a group of people and think it’s a problem that they’re all white, then you’re the racist. Don’t buy into the evil ideology just because its decorated with nice sounding words.

      1. Exactly. People who think that a group is “too white” and should be “diversified” are racists. It’s quite disgusting really.

        1. Well, it might be defensible if it was a principle applied equally across the board, but of course it is not. A 100% black group is considered 100% diverse to these people.

  13. This is really unfortunate. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering as a docent for a good few years now and it’s been a most edifying experience. Our program had us go through about three months of training and I do three hour long (back to back) tours one Sunday a month. I am by far the least knowledgeable or interesting of the volunteers – their collective wealth of knowledge is staggering. My favorite event of the year is our annual training, where I get to mingle with the others and hear what they have to share. That all said, I’m pretty sure we are mostly, if not completely, white. We live in a pretty white city, however, so it isn’t entirely surprising. I’m not sure of the demographic makeup of the paid guides that do the civic work with the school kids, but I imagine that it is more diverse.

    Why could they not have paired the current docents with diverse trainees? Why not have a gateway docent program that recruits out of local community colleges and has a less intense time schedule? Why not leverage the strength of what sounds like an excellent program to reach out to those who might like to volunteer, but may lack some of the credentials? There seem to be so many better ways to have approached this. Shame on the board.

    1. Obviously, if we were talking about another country like Sri Lanka and they were firing Tamil volunteers at the art museum, or in India if they were firing untouchables, it would be kind of obvious why there would be no attempt at some kind of rational compromise. The removal would be because of the racial impurity they created. To go more Western, in some sects of Christianity, menstruating women are denied Communion because of the belief in blood impurity, which also carries over into a more general cultural belief in women being impure because they menstruate.

      Of course, we live in a secular, rational society that has transcended racism, so an anthropological/religious explanation would be inappropriate, so it is puzzling why the docents are being treated like unclean animals when there are so many rational compromises out there in the world.

  14. Its actually pretty cool the way a cult that is basically almost a racist version of scientology has taken over the world without any resistance, as far as what it says about the capacity of humans for rationality or technocratic governance (which increasingly resembles the Ayatollahs of Iran).

  15. The AIC committed a racist act in order to pursue an antiracist goal. You’ve just gotta love the logic of the woke.

  16. Why don’t the fired docents form an informal (or formal) collective and advertise their services as tour guides. People visiting the museum book a guide and stroll around the museum with their guide-friend or ‘date’. Cut the museum leadership out of it. The museum cannot stop people visiting and strolling around with ‘friends’/dates. Guides/friends/dates are tipped, perhaps $30 per hour. Problem solved.

    1. Speaking of which; the Guest Engagement portion of the volunteers at the Shedd Aquarium is suspended for now, as the department that does Guest Engagement was shut down last year. I have been a volunteer in the department for a long time, and like the AIC; we go through a LOT of training to get qualified to interpret the exhibits. I go to the Aquarium often on my own, as I am a member and have unlimited entry. I usually go around the Aquarium and give ‘informal’ nuggets to the people visiting; as I feel that someone telling you what you are looking at makes the Aquarium vastly more interesting. Otherwise; it is like looking at “fishes in tanks”. Maybe I should put something together like you are suggesting!

  17. I will make sure the AIC is aware that this decision is the sole reason I will not renew my membership next year.

    1. Why is it that racist money is still being accepted? Has the Harriet Tubman twenty even been printed yet? Best to boycott (personcott) white money.

  18. Solution is very simple. Pay the current docents the $25 per hour & have them mentor a person of color for 2 years for the position. This unpaid volunteer (like the 122 were) will be side by side the senior docent learning the position. They finish all the same requirements the senior docent did and they can be promoted to the paid position & being mentoring another. If you don’t work at developing “bench strength” just trying to hire people will never work. Those that will suffer from this will be tour goers and the POC docents, if they are not equally qualified of those they replaced. What is the black point of view when looking at a Van Gogh that is missing?

    1. Thank you, Marie Dean. This is a very viable solution !!!! I was trying to think of how to write up a suggestion just like this, but you nailed it !!!! I hope somebody at the AIC is reading this ! Rita Silverberg, Tucson, AZ

    2. There’s an even simpler solution. Just recognize that being black isn’t a qualification for anything and instead hire people who have the desire and ability to do the job.

      1. Absolutely, someone’s skin color should never be a criterion for hiring or fireing anybody. This is crazy. Any discrimination, including of the “affirmative action” kind, remains discrimination and is immoral, period.

  19. I’m appalled. The docents should be rehired with many many apologies! The responsible parties need to be subject to some kind of consequences. Now, conversely, it’s been many years since I have seen a museum guard who wasn’t African/American. So how does that work in this pc context!?! Looks rather plantation (sorry for the terminology, but come on!) The docents with their knowledge and incredible devotion have made an enormous difference to so many visitors and certainly made an enormous contribution to our AIC being so visitor friendly and highly rated.This must be promptly rectified!

  20. My first question is about the training requirement. Is it necessary? Does it really improve the visitor experience? It clearly is a barrier. Why wasn’t that done FIRST?

    An honest diversity initiative would first identify barriers (by asking the community what they are!) and work towards removing them.

    1. LOL friend. This is about art. Actual art. Not scribbles and doodles. Communicating art history is something done out of passion, not $25/hr. There is no amount of education that an bring these new employees up to par with the dedicated volunteers. There is no amount of education that can even bring them up to par with other ethnic groups. We’ve been throwing billions at this effort for 100 years and the results are incontrovertible.

  21. Do not, under any circumstances, leave a single penny in your will to any institution. This is merely one example of this process whereby these parasites get into positions of authority and drain endowments, redistributing the wealth exclusively to black people. Every institution in this nation is suffering the same fate. No legal trust can protect it. A judge has already broken iron clad wills and awarded plaintiffs against the desires of the deceased parent because the will was “racist.” The only protection you have is to abandon these institutions and fund alternative efforts. Universities are the worst of them. Your America is dead.

  22. Why don’t they just keep all the docents and cut their hours slightly and add some $25/hr workers who are minorities? Seems simple.

    And then as they retire, try to strike more of a balance between people getting $25/hr (of all backgrounds and races) and volunteers.

    Also fire the person who made this decision — totally cruel to do to a group of people who’ve given their time and love to the institution.

    1. Is there really all that much difference between the AIC’s action of firing people because they are white and your idea of not hiring people because they are white?

  23. Holy Crap! Now the ‘racially correct police’ have gone too far –WAY too far!!
    Yes fire the person(s) responsible!
    Yes reinstate -with profound apology.
    Yes make sure this is publicized far & near.

    AND of the comments the one re ‘so dump ‘white donors’ was literally ‘right on the money!!’

  24. We keep being told that “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is not a zero-sum game.
    Well, obviously it is, at least in this case.
    I expect more madness to come.

  25. I think it comes down to more class issues than a racial one, though the two overlap. The kind of people with the financial independence and spare time to be unpaid volunteers lean older and wealthier, and along with that whiter. There is something to be said for the well-funded parts of the nonprofit sector ending its reliance on wealthy volunteers and actually paying people for their time, which in itself will help bring in a more ‘diverse’ set of workers.

    Of course, that said, AIC handled it in a really ham-fisted and tacky way. They should have gradually phased in the paid worker system rather than just fired all of their docents who’s given so much. And they really should have given lifetime passes to the ones laid off, at the very least.

    There are similar issues in science – I see an increasing use of unpaid lab internships, emphasis on ‘citizen science’, and so on, all making it more difficult to find entry-level positions in scientific work for people with scientific training but having less than a PhD.

    1. I agree that the Museum ought to pay people who work for them. So why didn’t they start paying their existing, well-trained docents?

    2. ” think it comes down to more class issues than a racial one, though the two overlap. The kind of people with the financial independence and spare time to be unpaid volunteers lean older and wealthier, and along with that whiter. There is something to be said for the well-funded parts of the nonprofit sector ending its reliance on wealthy volunteers and actually paying people for their time, which in itself will help bring in a more ‘diverse’ set of workers.”

      In what world does it make sense for a non-profit organization to refuse charitable donations? These ladies were donating time and labor, saving the museum thousands upon thousands.

      In fact, I just did the math – if there are 122 of these ladies, averaging 10 hours a week and 48 weeks a year – and you price that out at $25 per hour (putting aside that paying a $25 per hour wage to employees costs much more than $25 per hour with employer FICA taxes, benefits, etc.) , that works out to just shy of $1.5 Million.

      $1.5 Million

      Remember this when the AIC starts crying about budge deficits and a need for government support in a few years.

  26. The docents should organize tours of the museum independently of its administration. If I showed up there with a group of people whom I shepherded through the exhibits (after paying the admission fee) would we be thrown out?

  27. I am a volunteer docent at another museum that is going through similar changes. Volunteering has been a large part of my life especially when I was at home with children and didn’t work full time. One of my volunteer jobs (yes, they are jobs!) was at my children’s public school library. This was in San Francisco not a white suburb. The school did not have the money to offer library to its 3 kindergarten classes. I volunteered. I was able to give the diverse students more time with books, teach library skills, do Readers’ Theater, and read diverse books to them. No one said that I was too white. They just said thank you.

    1. While you’re reading diverse books to diverse students, keep one thing in mind: Calls for diversity are just calls for fewer people who look like you. If you’re a proponent of diversity then you’re just pushing for your own demise.

        1. Well if NPR says it’s bad……

          My tongue-in-cheek name for this blog is the Infinite Gell-mann Amnesia Blog where one post will be lambasting a major news outlet (like NPR) for it’s ridiculous wokeness and the next will be citing the same source as if it’s reputable.

          I also love the irony of denouncing a theory that says whites are being replaced as a fictional and white supremacist theory in a blog post specifically about whites being replaced. Once again, is the contradiction not blatantly apparent to you?

  28. AIC could reach out to local universities and offer students pursuing art degrees an opportunity to become docents. The training could support their degree program and certainly enhance their job resume. All while keeping current docents. In fact, current docents might be able to help train them. Just a thought.

  29. Seems like a business opportunity to me. The former docents should whip up a website and offer the same tours they gave for free at a nice reasonable price. Explain their existing training and experience and put themselves out there as an alternative to whatever AIC offers.
    Enough tours to cover a yearly pass for the docent and any more tours puts them ahead of the game of when they were volunteers.

    1. Dave Huff, this is brilliant idea.

      It is exactly what goes on in Europe. You can take the huge slow Vatican tour with 50 sweaty people, or pay a small group tour guide yourself, well worth the money and they take you to what you want to see. The guide and tourist still have to purchase an entry ticket anyway, and in places like the Vatican, the quality private historians arrange to purchase your entry tickets and a private car if needed.

      Then in two years Veronica Stein can complain it’s racist that all the successful 3rd party tour guides are taking away business.

      1. As for the “fired” and over qualified volunteers providing alternative tours at a charge; I would not recommend that, yet. Given that they are volunteers, they probably do not need the funds, but by providing tours they would actually be helping the AIC by brining in paying customers! And providing AIC with funds rather than depriving them of them, and not giving tours! If they did want to give tours, I would suggest that they wait until AIC rolls out their new docents and then provide competition at that point

  30. OMG! This is astoundingly sad and unbelievable! I am a Docent, now becoming (just) a guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, (MIA). We too are transitioning our educational touring programs as well as looking at this very same issue of diversity in docents/guides. I can’t and won’t speak for MIA, but for myself. I find this action disturbing and totally lacking in foresight.
    So let us consider some of the flaws in this decision; their is the assumption that they will be able to even hire a more diversified group as docents, their is an assumption that if they are able to hire said individuals, that after a relatively extensive and intense training program they will actually be able to give better tours than the docents they let go, and finally the biggest flaw in this whole process is that these new, diverse docents will bring their perspectives to their tours! The problem with that logic IS, that docents are not to be bringing their perspectives to their tours at all, but to ENGAGE their participants to get THEIR PERSPECTIVES! At least that is what we at MIA have been taught, as we employ the VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) approach to presenting our tours. In closing I will add that it most definitely will benefit a museum to have diverse docents; simply on the basis of inclusive appearances. I will also acknowledge that after similar training to the fired docents, those new docents would do an equally wonderful and professional tour. But let us look at the major downsides of this decision, which I definitely believe will have catastrophic results. One of which will most definitely be the loss of donations and memberships! Another will be AIC’s inability to provide exceptional tours for as long as it takes to hire and train that new group of more diverse docents. (Let’s say about 18-24 months!) Thus to me this was not a well thought out decision and one extremely unfair to those previous docents AND to the AIC members, and those who will have to wait a considerable amount of time to get an exceptional tour experience from an amazingly qualified docent!

    1. Agreed. Further, a great docent must be intelligent, articulate, and well-spoken, in addition to mastering art history and docent-specific learning. How long will such people — who must work for a living — stay in a $25/hour job? High turnover is always expensive, especially when it takes years to train new employees before they can be productive. $25/hour is a fraction of the real cost of the ongoing recruiting, training, and paying this new diverse workforce.

      This decision will decimate current donations and future bequests from all but the most woke supporters. It will raise museum costs and, ultimately, admission fees. All while reduceing tour frequency and quality. This reduces return visits, membership, and future donations and bequests.

  31. This is pure racism. Being racist against white people, that doesn’t make it OK. Absolutely appalling. People donate their time and resources are then treated like disposable garbage because of their skin colour? Just appalling.

    1. there is no such thing as racism against white people when we live in a white supremacist society. it is the white supremacist order that has allowed rich old white women to be docents – an unpaid position that lower class, non-white people cannot afford to do. rectifying this unequitable system is not racism. these people did not lose their job/income and I guarantee many of them are on the Board or donors anyways, so they can continue to be involved in the museum.

      1. Yet another tirade about our white supremacist society, which neverthelss has managed to hire lots of African-Americans for real paid positions at the Museum. Being a docent VOLUNTEER WORK and it’s been going on for 60 years. How do you know that the AIC can afford to pay full salaries of over a hundred docents?

        Sorry but this is the kind of nonsense that I was talking about earlier.

      2. As a not rich but old white woman who has applied to be a volunteer docent in the past, I found this action to be both sexist and ageist. Is it acceptable to treat old women as expendable and invisible as we so often are treated, as long as we are white? The treatment of the docents was appalling and utterly lacking in gratitude. Several posters here have suggested different ways the museum might have approached changing the mix of docents that did not involve telling well-trained devoted volunteers to take a hike. Assuming they are all rich so it’s okay is not rational.

  32. It is simple- the docent service was terminated because of the race(or races ) of the docents.
    To justify it or rationalize it is to excuse openly racist behaviour.

  33. Another wrinkle to this sad episode: by firing all the unpaid docents, and then saying they will hire docents and pay them $25.00 an hour (not a paltry sum) and that these new paid docents will be purposefully more non-white, the AIC board is de facto looting the endowment/donations in the name of equity. I.e., it is a form of racial reparations, an explicit transfer of funds to black/Hispanic new docents, who will have nowhere near the length of experience and expertise of the previous unpaid docents. That this is looting would be transparently obvious if the board had used another non-meritocratic criterion other than race, like firing unpaid docents and hiring new docents who all happened to be relatives of the board members.

    To the extent it hasn’t already happened, expect this to happen more and more in the world of not-for-profit organizations: the use of donations and charitable foundations as an explicit base for the redistribution of wealth on the basis of race by vastly overpaying black/Hispanic consultants and employees. After all, in the non-profit world, since these organizations don’t produce profits where the pie can grow, use of the funds is effectively zero-sum.

    1. Could be, but I don’t know. One thing I do know is that in general museums don’t pay well, except for the few at the very top perhaps. Even major museums. I’ve worked for some museums installing art and compared to what one can make working for a gallery or private collectors what museums pay is ridiculously low. Though there is an added benefit in that working for museums gets your foot in the door to much better paying work. It gives good experience, exposure and contacts.

  34. The AIC board decision to remove all the docents was
    ungrateful, foolish and unfortunate for all future visitors and the AIC. The ideas to bring back the docents and create mentor, high school and collegiate programs is excellent! Many were quick to share observations of all the black security guards. Diversity as someone else stated is age, gender. race, physicality and many other differences, it’s not the black security guards versus white docents. Although that seems to be the equitable thinking of many art galleries and museums. Also, please reconsider assigning foolish decisions, woke-ness and sheer stupidity to one political party over another, there is plenty of ignorance to go around. I wholeheartedly thank the docents for their devotion and hard work and I hope they are redeemed! AIC board, there are many great ideas just in this one blog, please take note and action.

  35. Come to think of it, I wonder if there’s a civil rights lawsuit lurking in here. I’m sure that’s something the AIC would just love to have. You fire EVERYONE because they’re white? Although they weren’t paid employees in the traditional sense, they invested with the expectation that they would be able to share their knowledge of the museum with others. Sounds like a contract with consideration to me. But I don’t know anything about Illinois or Federal discrimination law. Still, if there’s a colorable claim, it’s worth putting the AIC on the defensive.

  36. Also note that the museum’s new plan is to hire docents at a relatively high wage ($25), and presumably with full benefits, compared to what was a purely volunteer role. Therefore, the museum will be devoting significant long term resources to maintaining an unnatural de facto quota system and as a result will have less resources to devote to acquiring works of art and for staging shows and exhibitions. Hardly what we want from our museums…

    I additionally want to note that the museum(?)’s reason for why they cannot recruit enough black or Hispanic docents—that blacks and Hispanics are uniformly socioeconomically oppressed and therefore have no free time to volunteer, as opposed to the white women who volunteer, who must all be uniformly rich—is specious garbage. Go out into the world and observe whether the only people you see engaging in recreational activities are white women.

    Finally, note that the museum cares nothing about having “representative” and equal numbers of male docents. Why is it important that the docent staff be perfectly “balanced” to [over]represent certain racial and ethnic groups but not to have a representative number (~50%) of men?

  37. I hope the docents will be allowed to apply for the paid positions. It’ll be interesting to see how many (if any) of the positions go to ex-docents. After all, they’re the most qualified, right?

  38. I’d like to comment on the idea that older women are disposable. That’s how they treated those women who had donated time and effort to a very rigorous program that does not pay them for their time. Most of those women will be retired, possibly disabled, possibly isolated, definitely deserving of the respect of AIC. They’ve earned the right to be there. Put that program back in place at once and apologize to them for such bigotry and disrespect. Start an intern program to train minority applicants to grow into those roles gradually. Diversity is fine, but as an older woman in this culture, I am shocked at the misogyny inherent in this decision. Women are the Majority Minority in America. Have some respect – they’ve earned it.

  39. Here is my question: What happens when some of these docents apply for the new $25-an-hour jobs and are turned down on the basis of race/age? That sounds like a pretty viable Title VII claim. A clever class action attorney might even be able to file on behalf of all of the docents to make this even more expensive for the museum. Given that the average employment discrimination claim that survives to summary judgment costs a defendant $75,000-$125,000 in attorney fees, and given that these claims might survive to trial (where the costs are even more astronomical), this decision seems like it might have been a bad call for fiscal reasons (leaving aside the policy abs goodwill costs of openly espousing reverse discrimination as an institution).

  40. Removing qualified people, creating higher operational costs ..which will ultimately create higher service fees and reduce customers ..and what was the up side to this?

    Someone needs to be fired before these bad decisions can take effect.

  41. A black woman fires volunteers because they are white. Unbelievable. Can you imagine the reaction if a white man fired someone because they are black? Here we have CRT in action.

  42. um, since it is a volunteer position…can’t you just continue doing tours anyway…it is not like TALKING is disallowed at an art gallery. just keep doing the same tours. wear tshirts with the hours and “unofficial docent” . people will follow you around.

    problem solved.

    1. Craig, why would these women who have been treated so outrageously unfair want to help the AIC and give tours that would bring in paying visitors?AIC has shot themselves in both feet with this terribly unthought out decision! Rightly angered members and donors will no longer give, and without tours for the usual visitors who pay and donate, (It will take at least 18 months or more to train the supposed and hopefully hired more diverse docents) which will also co$t AIC significant amounts of $$$$$$$$s!

  43. My local Chicken ‘n Waffles Cafe better damn well hire some White people. The truth in this matter, however, lies in the $$. When you’re the recipient of a multi-million dollar grant, the best way to spend it for purposes of advancing the “cause” of a specific “group”, is to hire them. In this case, educating visitors regarding the various collections is not what’s important. Advancing a political – that is to say – Socialist agenda is what’s important. Persons watching their caloric intake can survive without the local C & W Cafe. They can also learn to get along without these pseudo intellectual snobs masquerading as “social justice warriors”. This museum’s actions alienate the public. My life will be perfectly fine without ever visiting this museum. So will yours.

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