After allegations of sexual harassment and an online petition calling for his removal, Pennsylvania’s Erie Art Museum has parted ways with its director, Joshua Helmer, who was once seen as a rising star in the museum world.
The petition posted to Change.org, which had garnered nearly 3,000 signatures by Monday afternoon, urged the museum to fire Helmer. Shortly after, a statement posted by the institution’s board of directors to the institution’s Facebook page said that it no longer employs Helmer and that it “appreciates, in advance, the community’s support as we move forward.”
The online petition took aim at what it called “Joshua Helmer’s abusive and predatory conduct toward women.” It stated that “whatever benefit this man provides the art museum pales in comparison to the damage that he has done to women.”
Helmer’s removal follows the publication of a New York Times report last Friday detailing allegations of misconduct leveled against Helmer during his previous tenure as the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s assistant director for interpretation as well as during his time at the helm of the Erie Art Museum.
The 31-year-old director, who left the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2018, has been accused of harassment by women he has worked with at the two Pennsylvania art institutions. Rachel Nicholson, who was Helmer’s subordinate and dated him while they worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, told the Times that he “thought it was his job to break me and then train me. He would say, ‘I should fire you, but I love you.‘”
In a statement issued shortly after the Times report went public, the Erie Art Museum’s board said that “the Erie Art Museum Board of Directors takes seriously all allegations of misconduct. Prior to offering Mr. Helmer the position at the Erie Art Museum, the Board, with the help of an employment consultant, conducted due diligence including background checks. No issues were identified during our due diligence.”
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