A response to the Art Institute's head honcho's weak effort to justify firing its docents.

He grossly avoids discussing the racial and class animus that motivates this outrage.

Below is an update to my previous post, Art Institute of Chicago fires docents because there are too many white women in their ranks.”

Without docents, go it alone.

Robert M. Levy, board chairman of the Art Institute of Chicago, offered a lame diversion in an attempt to camouflage the real reason for summarily firing the scores of docents who for 60 years have introduced the public to the museum’s multiple, world-class art treasures.

In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, “The Art Institute — and its critics — must embrace change,” Levy failed to address the firing’s clear intent to cleanse the museum of the docent’s characteristic demographic: Many, but not all, are white women who have the time and wherewithal to volunteer the many hours required of their involvement. In other words, old white women from the suburbs.

Truth is these are women and men from various walks of life and backgrounds who must successfully complete a tough training regimen to qualify. They love art and the Institute. They relish introducing visitors, donors, art lovers and busloads of inner city children to the wonders within. They don’t see themselves as a socio-economic class or a race; rather they are highly motivate and loyal, while being paid nothing.

Robert Levy

Levy of course failed to mention that the docents have been working to increase their membership reach to people of different backgrounds.

Instead he went off on a wild tangent that essentially endorses change for the sake of change, dragging out the cliche about how everyone must “embrace change.” He laid into a Chicago Tribune editorial criticizing the firing as as “wholehearted endorsement of the status quo.”

Critical race theory pokes its head up at one of Chicago’s most respected and valuable institutions.

Well, Mr. Levy, sometimes the status quo has more to recommend itself than a complete disregard of something that’s working and doesn’t need fixing. Nowhere in his op-ed does he provide an argument that the existing docent program has somehow failed. Nothing to demonstrate how the program’s failure must be completely rebuilt.

But the pink slip to the docents from the Veronica Stein, an Institute director on the job for less than a year, makes the real motivation abundantly clear. In the woke vernacular, she tells the 84 volunteer docents that they will be replaced by paid, part-time “educators” to be chosen on the basis of “an income equity-focused lens.” (See her complete letter in my earlier post. See also the docents’ reply that detailed their many accomplishes, rigorous training requirements and the massive benefits they have bestowed on the museum and Chicago.)

What could be clearer than the stated goal is to to build a program that:

in a way … allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility to participate. Rather than refresh our current program, systems, and processes, we feel that now is the time to rebuild our program from the ground up. This means the program’s current iteration will come to an end.

Critical race theory pokes its head up at one of Chicago’s most respected and valuable institutions. Good intentions gone terribly wrong, further eroding Martin Luther King’s goal of a color-blind society and the decades of work by so many Americans to make it so.

Levy’s mealy-mouthed words tell the docents how much they are respected and valued, words that ring hollow. He must have been joking when he wrote:

This decision [the firing], conveyed directly and graciously with the leaders and members of the volunteer educator corps, shows respect for the knowledge and experience of both our dedicated volunteers and our professional staff. We value them both, and their input is critical to our path forward. [Emphasis added.]

It will take three years to get the new program up and running, Levy wrote as part of a boast how wonderful it will be. Three years, he should add, that patrons will have to go without the docents’ insight and experience. Or as Stein writes:

Overall educational programming will continue at a reduced scale. Staff will design models for educator recruitment, training, and assessment, identifying and dismantling barriers that have historically limited participation.

Endless meetings, goal-setting, mission statements, break-out groups, design criteria and the rest of the gobbledygook that gets in the way of actually doing something.

After all is said, though, I found a real revelation in Levy’s op-ed when he writes:

 The Art Institute aims to pioneer a new national art education model, and the path forward that we have outlined has garnered the full support of staff and peer institutions.

Tells me that this is a program of self-aggrandizement, to tell the world, oh what good people we are. And never mind the museum’s visitors–they come in last.

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  • Levy and Stein...I hope they aren't getting paid to "F*** Up" a classy program at the Art Institute.. I hope they are just misguided volunteers holding high appointed positions...unpaid positions...who think it is OK to disrespect & practice reverse discrimination as a means of signaling their own "virtue". I'm afraid they do get paid...paid pretty well...to personify the arrogant dismissive "wokeness" of their ilk

  • Thanks for giving this more publicity, Dennis. This man doesn't appear to understand "If it works, don't fix it," so he's dismantled a well-respected program without having the replacement ready to go. It's a sad state of affairs.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Help me out. I'm puzzled why few other Chicago media are interested in the story. I've had over 10,000 hits, including a healthy representation from across the country. Are they staying away from it because they see it as another bout in the tiresome culture war? Or do they think that Chicagoans aren't interested in what is truly a Chicago institution? Maybe my news judgment has become much too old school.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    And did the Tribune jump in on this because some of the docents that were fired were connected to the honchos at the paper?

  • In reply to Studebaker Hawk:

    Perhaps. But the Tribune news side has completely ignored the story. The editorial board first reported the story after running a letter to the editor about it. So if there's a connection it would have to be to the editorial board, not to the other honchos.

  • If this was 12 years in the making, like Robert says, then why wasn't it more of a discussion point when this story was ran in 2012 which talks about ADDING docents to the Institute?


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