Its been a turbulent week for the Bellevue Arts Museum.
It's been a turbulent week for the Bellevue Arts Museum. Courtesy of BAM
Benedict Heywood, the executive director of the Bellevue Arts Museum, has resigned after an open letter released earlier this week accused him of treating Seattle artist Tariqa Waters with "so much harm and disrespect" while she guest-curated an exhibition at the museum late last year.

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In a statement released today, the museum's board of directors said they accepted Heywood's resignation as executive director and chief curator, effective immediately. In an email, a BAM rep said Heywood resigned on Wednesday of this week. The board says they are working with senior staff to hash out an interim leadership plan. They also reiterated their apology to Waters and to the artists of Yellow No. 5 for "the regrettable experience they had while working with the Museum."

"We recognize that the change in leadership is only one part of a larger effort to build back trust and confidence with our curators, partners, artists, staff and community," the letter reads. "We are committed to taking immediate and intentional steps to listen, learn and act so that we can do better and move forward together."

The artists and supporters who signed the March 15 open letter called for Heywood's removal as executive director, an apology to both Waters and the participating artists, as well as greater transparency around BAM's diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

Waters is the first Black person and first Black woman to curate a show at BAM. Yellow No.5 includes the works of several Black, Indigenous, and people of color artists from around the city and remains up at BAM until April 18. Several of those artists, including Waters herself, were signatories of the open letter, which documented their grievances with both Heywood and the museum. The letter was released, they said, to "confront BAM’s racism and other intersectional systems of oppression."

Heywood's resignation comes after Tree Swenson, former executive director of Hugo House, and James Lobb, former executive director of Pottery Northwest, also stepped down from their leadership positions after facing similar allegations of racism and discrimination.

I've written to Waters for additional comment and will update this post if I hear anything back. Below you'll find BAM's board of trustees statement from today:

The Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees has accepted the resignation of its executive director and chief curator, effective immediately, following artist and community concerns brought forward by guest curator, Tariqa Waters. The board is working closely with senior staff members on an interim leadership plan. On March 15, the Bellevue Arts Museum Board of Trustees’ leadership issued an apology to Waters and the artists of Yellow No. 5 for the regrettable experience they had while working with the Museum.

The events described in an open letter issued on March 15 do not align with or reflect our values as an artistic institution. 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.

We recognize that the change in leadership is only one part of a larger effort to build back trust and confidence with our curators, partners, artists, staff and community. We are committed to taking immediate and intentional steps to listen, learn and act so that we can do better and move forward together.

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As we strive to create and sustain a culture where everyone feels welcomed, supported and included, we will regularly share public updates about the work of our Board’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee on our website, in addition to the immediate changes outlined in our March 15 public statement. We are determined to make progress, improve our systems, policies and practices, and cultivate an environment that is encouraging, safe and respectful for everyone.

We believe art heals. We can and must do better. We welcome your feedback and encourage you to contact the Museum with comments or questions through our new open communications channel www.bellevuearts.org/feedback.

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