Margarita Aguilar, Former Director of the El Museo del Barrio, Files Discrimination Claim

Margarita Aguilar, former director of
El Museo del Barrio,  is suing the
museum for gender discrimination.

Last week things turned sour at the El Museo del Barrio once again.  Margarita Aguilar, museum director since 2010, filed a claim with New York State human rights officials claiming gender discrimination.  In a statement, she revealed that she was publically humiliated by the museum’s executive board.

She was told to lose weight, dress better and reshape her eyebrows.  Aguilar also cites specifically that when she fired the finance director last year, she was called a “hysterical woman.”

On January 14th, Aguilar was terminated from the museum.  The timeline of events is questionable.  Her lawyer, Donald Defner, spoke to the museum counsel on January 9th about Aguilar’s hostile workplace complaints.  On January 11th, Aguilar was suspended by the museum for “dereliction of duty, failure to engage in meaningful fundraising activities, and failure to effectively lead and work with various staff members.”

On January 13th, the museum’s executive commitee planned a meeting to discuss the suspension, and informed Aguliar on January 11th.  Aguilar failed to show up for the meeting, citing that she was not given enough notice to prepare.  She received her “pink-slip,” a letter of termination, the next day.

El Museo del Barrio emphasizes group tours and
educational programs for the community.

Aguilar told The New York Times, “This is beyond belief.  I was doing my duties from the moment I stepped in to the moment I left.”

What is really going on beneath the surface?  The museum is facing financial major hurdles. In January, the museum laid off 1/5 of its staff, put into place required staff furloughs, and cut back its hours.

The museum is also facing what ABC News calls an “identity crisis.”  There is strong debate about whether the museum should continue on its current track of community involvement, or expand its reach internationally.

According to NYU Professor Arlene Davila, this is not a new problem for the El Museo del Barrio.  She stated: “They [the museum] have a history of trying to upscale the institution.  It has always been a challenge between the community that sees it as their institution and the board.  It wants to be the MET or the Guggenheim, when it’s roots come from the community.  It’s about class.  There’s a lack of transparency.  The board is not open about their direction.”

It is speculated that Chus Martinez, a popular European curator and chief curator at the museum since last year, will take Aguilar’s place as museum director.
Sources: Felicia R. Lee, “El Museo del Barrio Named in Discrimination Claim,” The New York Times, February 22, 2013; “Beloved Institution El Museo del Barrio Has an Identity Crisis, Again,” ABC News, February 22, 2013; Felicia R. Lee, “Margarita Aguilar Leaves El Museo del Barrio,” The New York Times, February 15, 2013.

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