Demand that the VMFA Support their Staff and BlPOC Communities

Demand that the VMFA Support their Staff and BlPOC Communities

June 21, 2020
Petition to
Alexander Nyerges, Director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and
Signatures: 1,411Next Goal: 1,500
Support now

Why this petition matters

Started by VMFA Reform


  • Donate to and create sustained partnerships with local, grassroots BIPOC run organizations. ^1
  • Do not rely on Richmond Police Department (RPD) to resolve community problems. ^2 Begin to develop and implement nonviolent security programs.
    • Apologize for the VMFA’s collaboration with militarized police forces during the Richmond Black Lives Matter protests.
    • Disarm VMFA SCOP officers (the museum’s internal security team) immediately.
    • Ban concealed firearms on museum premises.

  • Denounce all expressions of violent white supremacy at the VMFA, including: unacknowledged investigations of employee ties with white supremacist organizations and the Virginia Flaggers.

  • Display provenance for the VMFA’s collection. Provide plans to repatriate works that were stolen or unjustly obtained.
    • Conduct an independent audit of museum collections and/or decolonization committee in collaboration with BIPOC communities.
  • Proper contextualization that addresses the impact of oppressive systems must be included for all exhibits and displays.

    • Consult with a diverse cross-section of departments/employees to create these displays. 

  • Expand Native American representation and permanent collections by collaborating with and acquiring artworks from each tribe in Virginia. 

    • Create educational programs focused on the history of local Indigenous communities from their perspectives.

    • Annual recognition and programming for Native American Heritage Month.
    • Territorial acknowledgement of Indigenous land occupied by VMFA buildings.
  • Compensate all staff at minimum $17/hour for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    • Give departments who are considered essential direct representation in the museum’s BeWell COVID-19 Committee. 

    • Immediately create and share an evidence-based plan for reopening so that essential staff can be assured of their safety. Reduce museum operating hours.

  • Acknowledge racial and sexual harassment claims and protect employees that have spoken out. Develop staff and public anti-racism programs. Reform harassment accountability measures.

    • Use member mailing lists to address issues of racism and sexual harassment within the museum. Specifically denounce all forms of harassment in regards to visitor interaction with VMFA employees and volunteers.

    • Preventative measures against harassment by visitors and employees must be put in place. Collaborate with employees to create group meetings on harassment and discrimination.

  • Hire more employees with disabilities, increase accommodations and accessibility for staff/visitors with disabilities and chronic illnesses.

    • Provide essential signage around the museum to increase accessibility and safety for all.

  • Lobby for increased pay and benefits for all VMFA employees. Minimum $15/hour, increasing to $20/hour by 2025.

    • Provide interdepartmental programs in order to encourage professional advancement, education and training. Transition more part-time employees into full-time employees.

A response must be issued by the VMFA by Friday, June 26th, 2020. 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ institutional response to the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality failed to critically evaluate the institution’s own role in upholding structural racism and other forms of oppression. The VMFA issued a statement of solidarity, but did not provide sufficient actionable guidelines or material support for Richmond’s Black communities or for the VMFA’s Black staff members.

The VMFA benefits enormously from the labor of Black people, but provides insufficient support for many of these staff members. The VMFA does not provide a living wage for workers, nor do they provide enough opportunities for advancement. Many salaried staff do not receive sufficient compensation for their labor, considering the cost of advanced education and/or previous unpaid experience required to obtain their position. This is a form of gatekeeping which privileges a primarily white, upper-middle class professional workforce. Income inequality must be transparently addressed, and reform should be advocated by VMFA administration.

Many employees, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), repeatedly speak out against their experiences of racism, sexual harassment, transphobia, homophobia, and ableism from both staff and visitors. These cases are frequently dismissed and insufficiently resolved. There have been little to no structural changes in operation to ensure the safety and comfort of these staff members. Current anti-harassment measures are not working; they are reactive rather than preventative. 

As a state agency, the VMFA has not exercised sufficient steps in serving all Virginians, especially Black people. The institutional response stands at odds with the VMFA’s proclaimed mission to deepen and sustain relationships with diverse populations. Since the VMFA claims interest in investing in Black communities, its administration must actively and continuously donate to, and create sustained partnerships with numerous local BIPOC run organizations. Museums have a moral imperative to engage in reparations, as the origin of the Western museum is inextricably linked with the colonial exploitation of BIPOC labor, pain, creativity, and scholarship.

While efforts have been made to diversify the permanent collection and special exhibitions by featuring prominent artworks by many BIPOC artists, our BIPOC colleagues and neighbors need us to go beyond just curating their stories. This is the bare minimum. The VMFA needs a continuing practice of amplifying and providing for their needs as they are expressed. We demand that the VMFA’s professed commitment to diversity and inclusivity be reflected in both the museum’s internal policies, as well as its ongoing engagement with BIPOC communities.

The VMFA has also implemented initiatives to diversify their department heads, Board of Trustees, curators, and various managerial positions. This alone does not absolve its institutional policies and systems from harming other BIPOC staff members, especially in regards to inadequate compensation for labor and insufficient accountability for harassment. Petitioning for institutional reform should not be the sole responsibility of BIPOC staff members. The VMFA administration as a whole must advocate for the issues addressed within this document to the VMFA Board of Trustees, the VMFA Foundation Board of Directors, and the Virginia State Government.

We realize that conversations implicating people and institutions with structural oppression are deeply uncomfortable for everyone. However, for BIPOC staff and community members, whose daily lives involve surviving systems of discrimination and disenfranchisement, not addressing these topics contributes to pain and suffering. This dialogue is necessary for any institution that claims “solidarity.” We specifically encourage our white colleagues, especially those in positions of influence, to use their power to publicly advocate for policy reform at the VMFA.

Thank you for taking the time to read and sign this petition. We must demand more from the people and organizations that serve the public. We will not be satisfied with statements of solidarity that fail to take action. Retaliation and intimidation will not be tolerated. 

Interested parties can contact us at


VMFA Reform Committee 

The purpose of the VMFA Reform Committee is to hold museum administration accountable for their complicity in systemic racism 365 days a year, by raising public awareness of key issues of equity regarding the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

As a state agency, the VMFA has the moral obligation to support the public. By failing to critically address its own complacency in systems of oppression, the VMFA has failed both its public constituency, and its employees. Refusing to advocate for equitable policies such as living wages, healthcare access, and large-scale cooperation with BIPOC led organizations, reflects a systematic undervaluing of Black lives, and human dignity in general. Instead of lionizing the museum’s policy of being open 365 days a year, or tokenizing individual instances of diversity, we ask the museum administration as a whole to critically consider how the institution benefits from systemic white supremacy.

 ^1 Provide donations or promote fundraisers for organizations supporting the concerns of Richmond’s BIPOC communities. Utilize the member and donor lists of the museum to promote this effort. 

Richmond Mutual Aid Fund
Richmond Bail Fund
Richmond For All
ACLU of Virginia
Richmond Food Justice Alliance
Reduce food waste within the museum, specifically by establishing relationships with Richmond food banks to donate food in a safe manner.
Southerners on New Grounds
Black Lives Matter DC Chapter
Side by Side
Native Tribes in Virginia 
Eastern Chickahominy

^2 Please refer to the newly appointed police chief’s 2002 homicide of Jeramy Onassis Gilliam. 

Support now
Signatures: 1,411Next Goal: 1,500
Support now