The director of a Pennsylvania museum was forced to quit his job on Monday following accusations about a pattern of misconduct in his former job as a manager at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The director, Joshua Helmer, "is no longer employed at the Erie Museum of Art," the Erie museum board said in a statement. He did not give details on whether Mr. Helmer was fired or asked to resign.
The action against the museum's director, who had been appointed to Erie's post in 2018, followed a New York Times article on Friday that reported that several women had accused Mr. Helmer of moving towards them in the workplace. while he was in Philadelphia. museum and that an intern had filed a similar complaint in Erie.
Two women he dated during his four years in Philadelphia informed him directly about him, an apparent violation of museum policy, and said in interviews that Helmer had warned them not to report him. Two others who said they had relationships with him were not direct subordinates, but he overcame them and told them he could hire, fire and promote whoever he wanted, the women said. Some of them also described Mr. Helmer reprimanding them in view of other employees.
"This is a victory for women," said Gina Ciralli, who dated Mr. Helmer. She said she had left the institution due to her abuse. “Removing Josh from his position of authority creates a safer work environment for everyone in the field. We can all breathe again. "
Helmer, 31, did not respond to requests for comment. In an interview last month, he refused to talk about his behavior or his relationships with women, but said he had always followed the museum's policy.
The Philadelphia Museum did not comment on Monday. Last week he said that Mr. Helmer had been "separated" from his post there in February 2018, but that he could not discuss the reasons for his departure because such matters were confidential.
It was not clear what information the Erie Museum had about Mr. Helmer's mandate in Philadelphia before hiring him. But in a statement Friday, he had defended the thoroughness of his hiring process.
"Before offering Mr. Helmer the position at the Erie Museum of Art, the board, with the help of an employment consultant, performed due diligence, including background checks," the statement said. "No problems were identified during our due diligence."
Shortly after joining Erie's staff, Mr. Helmer sent text messages to a university student who worked there, suggesting that he go home. "Coffee, in my house, I have a cool back cover," he said, according to a screenshot that the woman, Asla Alkhafaji, provided to The New York Times.
After she told him she could only meet in public, Ms. Alkhafaji said that he began to ignore her at work and one day she said: "You are the most useless intern we have."
The museum said it had investigated a complaint by Ms. Alkhafaji and found no reason to discipline Mr. Helmer.
"I hope the board is honest and transparent," said Kelly Armor, a former Erie Art Museum manager who had reported on the treatment Helmer gave Alkhafaji, and who left the museum after confronting Helmer. "They need to rebuild a lot of trust."
The pressure on the museum had increased in recent days. The Times report led to the circulation of an online petition requesting the removal of Mr. Helmer in Erie. "Any benefit this man provides to the art museum pales in comparison to the damage he has done to women," the petition said.
In addition, more than 250 current and former workers at the Philadelphia Museum signed a statement in solidarity with the women who worked there.
Much of the concern focused on whether cultural institutions had done enough to analyze Mr. Helmer's behavior and work history. On Facebook, the University of Maryland Museum Studies Program called the response of the Philadelphia Museum and the research procedures of the Erie Museum "inadequate."
At the Philadelphia Museum, Mr. Helmer was appointed assistant director of interpretation in 2014, just four months after his arrival. Last October, ARTNews appointed him one of the directors of museums under 40 in the country that were shaping their institutions.
Several women interviewed by The Times described Mr. Helmer as building and breaking them down repeatedly. At least three employees who were familiar with these accounts said they reported their concerns to museum managers, as of 2016.
In recent days, another woman, Ashley Scrivener, has come forward to say that she resigned in 2016 from her position in the information technology department at the Philadelphia Museum due to the "toxic work environment" created by Mr. Helmer . She said he had invited her to drink several times.
"During my exit interview with the head of human resources, I told them all about Josh that was bothering me," he recalled. "H.R.'s response was:" My God, that's crazy, I shouldn't say that. "But in reality, he worked there for another two years."