Art Institute of Chicago Fires Majority White Docents Because of 'Equity' Concerns

Docents are unpaid volunteers with years of experience

The Art Institute of Chicago / Facebook
October 13, 2021

The Art Institute of Chicago fired all 122 of its unpaid, volunteer docents, seemingly because most of them are white.

Woman's Board Executive Director of Learning and Public Engagement Veronica Stein on Sept. 3 gave the docents a collective pink slip, saying the museum's docent program doesn't adequately respond to "issues of class and income equity."

The majority of the museum's former docents are white, older women, the Chicago Tribune noted in its editorial on the firing.

"Once you cut through the blather, the letter basically said the museum had looked critically at its corps of docents, a group dominated by mostly (but not entirely) white, retired women with some time to spare, and found them wanting as a demographic," the Tribune wrote.

Museum board chairman Robert M. Levy in a Tribune op-ed said the editorial contains "numerous inaccuracies and mischaracterizations," though he did not say what they were.

The 122 former docents had to go through rigorous, 18-month training sessions, 5 years of research, and biweekly further trainings for their unpaid service. They will be replaced, Stein said, by a "limited number of paid educators" the museum will choose based on "an income equity-focused lens."

Many local writers expressed anger at the museum's decision, with University of Chicago emeritus professor Jerry Coyne writing that it is "grossly unfair and inimical to the education of museum-goers."

Local journalist Dennis Byrne, meanwhile, wrote that the Art Institute "is being run for the benefit of the woke bureaucracy that's now in charge" rather than "the black and brown Chicago school children who benefited mightily from the docent tours."