The Philadelphia Museum of Art has selected a New York-based consulting firm, VallotKarp, to conduct an assessment of the museum’s workplace environment, according to an email sent to all staff members late Friday afternoon.
Leslie Anne Miller, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in the email that the firm was selected based on its “experience with issues of equity, access, diversity and inclusion; experience working with organizations facing challenges similar to our own; the ability to begin immediately and to pursue an accelerated schedule; and a lack of previous engagement with the museum or other potential conflicts of interest.”
VallotKarp will be assessing the Art Museum following a New York Times article last month that reported a former museum manager, Joshua Helmer, 31, entered into relationships with women at the museum who were subordinate to him in rank while dangling possibilities for professional advancement.
Helmer left the museum in 2018 and subsequently was named director of the Erie Art Museum; he departed that museum following the report in the Times. Reached Friday evening, Helmer’s lawyer, Paul John Susko, said of his client: “His separation from the PMA did not involve any sexual harassment in the workplace.”
Miller was not immediately available to comment on the selection, according to a museum spokesman. Calls to Angela Vallot, a principal in the management firm, were referred to the museum.
Vallot and Mitchell Karp are scheduled to meet with the staff of the museum on the morning of Feb. 21.
In her email, Miller said VallotKarp have been charged with “prioritizing staff involvement” and will be helping initially to form “a staff advisory group.” That group will hammer out just how the staff will be engaged in the assessment.
It was unclear whether the assessment would examine what actually happened in the Helmer situation or whether it will gather information about unrelated past instances of possible discrimination or gender manipulation — to provide a kind of baseline for future assessment.
On its website, VallotKarp describes itself as “a boutique management consulting firm that focuses on creating inclusive environments where people can work together more effectively.”
The website goes on to say that the firm provides “a broad range of services to corporations, law firms and other organizations on issues relating to diversity and inclusion, cultural competence, mentoring/sponsorship, gender dynamics and conflict resolution.”
Miller said VallotKarp has conducted “cultural assessments” and led “staff engagement” at many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On its website, the firm touts its work with a wide variety of corporate entities, including media giant Viacom and legal titan Skadden.
A precise timeline following the Feb. 21 all-staff meeting has not been established, but museum officials have said in the past that they want to move forward as quickly as possible.