The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has wrestled with gender and diversity issues for more than a year, has named a deputy director for diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to oversee development and implementation of the museum’s oft-stated goals of institutional equity and diversification.
Alphonso Atkins Jr., named to the newly created endowed position, is currently chief diversity officer and special assistant to the chancellor for equity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina Upstate.
The museum announced the appointment Monday.
When he arrives at the PMA on Aug. 16, Atkins will have responsibility for establishing a strategy to achieve the museum’s goals — not only of becoming an inclusive and equitable workplace, but of becoming an institution that reflects and embraces the diversity of the city of Philadelphia in its programming and educational efforts, and even in its purchasing and use of vendors.
The appointment of a DEI officer comes after a year that began with news accounts of incidents of employee abuse and inappropriate behavior on the part of managers, continued through the rise of Black Lives Matter and calls for greater diversity, pandemic-related shutdowns, and layoffs, and the embrace by employees of unionization.
Timothy Rub, museum chief executive and director, noted that the Atkins appointment comes at an “important moment” for the institution.
”Over the past year we have engaged in a great deal of introspection, discussion, and staff training as we have sought to strengthen our own workplace culture and, at the same time, continue to build our capacity to engage and collaborate effectively with diverse communities to develop exhibitions, educational programs and other initiatives,” Rub said in a statement.
Atkins will be charged with making sense of it all and ensuring that diversity and equity are parts of the museum’s decision making across the board. “As events of the last year have demonstrated, both in Philadelphia and across the country, our future success requires a comprehensive and sustained shift in the direction of greater inclusion,” Rub said.
Atkins, an attorney originally from St. Louis, has led efforts at the University of South Carolina Upstate to resolve inequitable conditions facing historically marginalized communities. He has reached out to those communities and conducted a broad review of the university’s policies and practices. He also served as the university’s equal opportunity and Title IX coordinator.
Atkins started at South Carolina Upstate in 2017. Before that he held a similar role at the Community College of Rhode Island. Prior to that he was regional diversity officer and professor of communication at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the largest singularly accredited community college in the nation. In 2015, Atkins received a National Endowment for the Humanities teaching fellowship in world religions and culture.
“There is a genuine desire to reimagine the PMA and its impact, identity, and influence as an institution committed to equity and inclusive excellence for all Philadelphians,” Atkins said in a statement. “The PMA is inextricably linked with the identity of Philadelphia, and as the city evolves, so too must the museum.”
Two museum staff members, contacted by The Inquirer, said they expected to be formally notified of the appointment by late Monday afternoon or evening. They welcomed the appointment of a permanent DEI officer, but declined further comment.