Dear Walters communities,
In the summer of 2020, we shared with you the Walters Art Museum’s commitment to advancing diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in our organization, our communities, and the museum field. This commitment is foundational to the Walters’ vision to be a force for transformation in the Baltimore region—to being an anti-racist institution and a 21st-century museum, an evolving civic organization that creates space for dialogue, reflection, and artistic creation. With this communication, we share several important announcements to update you on our progress toward these efforts.
New Expanded Walters History
Today we posted on our website a newly written history of the Walters Art Museum that addresses and examines William and Henry Walters’ support of the Confederacy. This is available at thewalters.org/about.
Previous descriptions of the museum’s origins focused primarily on William and Henry Walters and their roles as philanthropists and art collectors. This expanded history, written by a cross-section of the Walters staff, now addresses three elements that had been missing.
First and foremost, the text examines William Walters and his support for the Confederacy—and how both William and his son Henry commemorated the Confederacy over several decades after the Civil War ended. Second, the history directly links the Walters’ business enterprises and personal financial success to their dependence on the Southern economies based in slavery and its legacies. Lastly, the museum’s history now tackles the biased, Eurocentric worldview that drove collecting and connoisseurship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This view informed the Walters’ collecting, as well as subsequent generations of museum professionals and collectors.
We have a responsibility to engage openly with the history of our origins and the art we steward. By doing so, we can understand how individuals and cultural institutions contribute to the perpetuation of racism and systems of inequity, and instead work to ensure an inclusive and anti-racist environment for visitors, volunteers, and staff. This museum was given to the city of Baltimore in 1931, and its story is part of Baltimore’s history. We hope that opening up this history will lead to more inclusive dialogue going forward, and we will make new information accessible in the museum and online as we continue our research.
We are also sharing today a new set of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) goals for the museum. This DEAI plan is available on the museum’s website.
The plan builds on the commitments we made in our Black Lives Matter statement in June 2020. Mirroring the five areas of our Strategic Plan [link to Strategic Plan], each section summarizes key steps that the museum has taken and outlines new action items for the next several years. One important example of this work is the Walters’ recent announcement that the museum will raise the wage floor to $15 per hour for full-time employees and bring part-time workers to $13 per hour (this change takes effect with the March reopening).
These goals are the result of the collaborative effort of a Joint Staff & Board DEAI Working Group and a Board DEAI Committee. We thank the Working Group, the DEAI Committee, and the more than 90 staff members (of approximately 150 staff) who participated in optional feedback sessions about their priorities for the museum. Annually, the Board of Trustees will review progress and we will provide updates on the website.
Looking to the Future
We believe art, history, and museums play an essential role in building a better and more just future for Baltimore and the region. If this last year has shown us anything, we ignore history at our peril. We believe there is no better place than a museum like the Walters in which to explore and expand our understanding of the world, its cultures, and especially the challenging stories of the shaping of America.
We are committed to making lasting change at the Walters Art Museum—and with the support of our staff, our Board, and our partners across Baltimore City and the State of Maryland, we will work toward our shared goals for a more equitable future.
For those of you who would like additional information about both the Walters history and DEAI plan, you can read our press release.
Thank you for your continued support,
Julia Marciari-Alexander, PhD
Andrea B. & John H. Laporte Director
James H. DeGraffenreidt, Jr.
Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Joint Staff & Board Working Group and Board DEAI Committee