An open letter was written to Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees by members of the region’s art community, requesting that Benedict Heywood, BAM’s executive director, be removed. It is asking for acknowledgment of the letter, as well as a response to the demands within it by March 31, 2021.
The open letter allows readers to add their signatures through a webform. Many local artists, creative directors, gallerists and others have signed it, including several artists who participated in “Yellow No. 5”.
The letter, written on March 15, 2021, documents abuses that Heywood inflicted on Tariqa Waters, curator of Yellow No. 5, an exhibit that ran at BAM from November 6, 2020 to April 18, 2021. The information alleges a pattern of disrespectful treatment toward her “mostly BIPOC exhibition artists, and others over the past year affiliated with this exhibition.”
Waters is not only a 2020 Neddy at Cornish Award Winner, but also, she is Bellevue Arts Museum’s first Black woman curator.
According to the letter, Heywood treated her with much harm and continued disrespect. The spirit of the letter comes from a need for accountability and repair. They are intending to hold accountable Heywood and the BAM board and staff to confront BAM’s racism and other intersectional systems of oppression, and to repair relationships.
Some of the accounts of abuses by Heywood are as follows; Heywood failed to give Waters budgetary guidelines when she began curating “Yellow No. 5”, Heywood revealed his fundamental racism, scorn, and lack of respect for Tariqa as a curator by speaking contemptuously about her to white exhibition artists during a virtual meeting, and he repeatedly dismissed her and continued to after the opening of her exhibit, and he dismissed harm caused to others affiliated with this exhibition. Also, after the December 2020 meeting, Heywood and the museum’s board failed to issue a public apology they had promised Tariqa Waters.
“It must be stated that curators can not do their work — especially at this institutional scale — without a budget,” the letter says. “It was highly unusual and unreasonable of Heywood to not provide a budget to Waters, and furthermore extremely undermining of her work. Not giving Waters a budget demonstrated not only a deep lack of courtesy and professionalism, but also a lack of respect for Waters as a curator and as a human being.”
The following is being requested; immediate removal of Benedict Heywood as Executive Director, a public apology written by the Board addressed to Waters naming specific harm caused to her by Heywood and others at BAM, and at least two year’s worth of transparency about the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work that BAM purports to be doing.
BAM board leadership issued a statement on March 15, 2021 acknowledging the open letter. It states that they are taking it seriously and will share more of BAM’s actions before the end of the month.