Bellevue Arts Museum’s board of trustees announced on Friday the resignation of the museum’s executive director and chief curator, Benedict Heywood, after artists called for his removal earlier this week, citing disrespectful behavior toward artists of color and the museum’s first Black woman guest curator.
Heywood’s resignation follows days of scrutiny for BAM, after local arts community members rallied behind a March 15 open letter alleging that Heywood exhibited a pattern of disrespectful treatment toward Tariqa Waters and artists of color during Waters’ time as the guest curator of the exhibition “Yellow No. 5,” which opened at BAM in November.
Heywood’s resignation is effective immediately. According to the board’s statement, BAM’s board and staff are currently formulating an interim leadership plan.
Waters could not immediately be reached for comment.
Waters’ open letter alleged a series of undermining behaviors from Heywood during her time as a guest curator at the museum, among them that Heywood did not give a budget to Waters despite repeated requests for clarity, and spoke derisively of the curator in a virtual meeting in front of three of the show’s represented artists, who are white, after she had briefly stepped away from the call.
“The events described in an open letter issued on March 15 do not align with or reflect our values as an artistic institution,” the board said the statement issued Friday. “Board leadership would again like to apologize to Ms. Waters and affirm that we have committed to responding to the requests made in the open letter.”
Heywood’s resignation is the latest in a series of local arts leaders stepping down in response to calls for greater equity within the arts community. Last month, Tree Swenson left her post as executive director at Hugo House after a group of writers called for her resignation, citing a need for equity and transparency at the literary organization. Earlier this month, James Lobb stepped down as executive director of Pottery Northwest after a Change.org petition was posted, taking the organization’s board to task for “their negligence in providing a safe and inclusive space” and calling for a new BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) executive director “with a commitment to transparent leadership.”
In addition to Heywood’s departure, BAM’s board shared its intention “to build back trust and confidence with our curators, partners, artists, staff and community” and to take “immediate and intentional steps to listen, learn and act so that we can do better and move forward together.”
The board announced plans to share regular public updates from the museum’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, and reiterated commitments made earlier this week in response to the concerns raised in Waters’ letter, including a plan to review curatorial contract language to make budgetary information more transparent to guest curators. The museum is also soliciting input from the public through a community feedback page on its website.
“We are determined to make progress, improve our systems, policies and practices, and cultivate an environment that is encouraging, safe and respectful for everyone,” said the board of these efforts. “We believe art heals. We can and must do better.”
Waters’ March 15 open letter, signed by more than 100 artists and supporters earlier this week, allows readers to add their signatures through a web form. Nearly 400 signatures had been added as of Friday afternoon, including nearly 30 who identified themselves on the letter as current and former BAM employees, volunteers and exhibiting artists.