A SAM worker collective called Decolonize SAM is calling for boycott of the museum over their policies towards the unhoused.
Decolonize SAM is calling for boycott of the museum over its policies towards the unhoused. Photo via SAM

This afternoon, a collective of Seattle Art Museum workers and "community allies" are calling for a boycott over two policies administrators announced earlier this summer: the installation of "hostile architecture" to deter homeless people from camping outside the downtown museum and the contracting of a private security firm to police the perimeter of the building.

In a press release, Decolonize SAM called for supporters to participate in four actions: Cancel their SAM memberships, donations, and partnerships; submit feedback to SAM's leadership regarding the museum's policies toward the unhoused; "raise awareness" about the boycott via social media platforms; and support local organizations "that are operated by and center people of the global majority." They've also launched a website and social media accounts to aid in spreading their message.

"The boycott will not be lifted until the Seattle Art Museum reverses the installation of hostile architecture and hiring of private security, and commits to creating an accessible, beneficial experience for all visitors — regardless of housing and socioeconomic status, or mental and physical ability," the group wrote in their release.

I've reached out to the Seattle Art Museum and will update this post once I've heard back from them. UPDATE 9/8: In an email, a SAM representative wrote of Decolonize SAM's call for a boycott, "It’s been disappointing to see this response to our decision to try to safeguard our staff and visitors."

As The Stranger reported back in June, SAM leadership announced to staff via internal email that the museum would implement the two policies addressing the houseless following physical incidents involving staff outside the building.

Wary of further criminalization of the unhoused, members of the frontline staff suggested alternatives to leadership's policies—such as providing sharps containers and harm reduction training for current SAM security—that they said went ignored. This led employees organizing under the name SAM Workers to create and launch a public petition, which has now garnered over 550 signatures in the last several weeks. The group calling for the boycott is different from SAM Workers but have overlapping members.

Decolonize SAM's press release claims that SAM leadership set up a "special advisory task force on homelessness" in response to staff concerns about the new policies. However, according to Decolonize SAM, that task force only consists of five people: SAM director and CEO Amada Cruz; Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Priya Frank; and three museum board members, excluding less senior staff.

The group also alleges that a "culture of harassment, retribution, and intimidation has long plagued SAM workers" that have vocally questioned SAM's policies. They also allege that worker complaints to HR about "racism, ableism, misogyny, sexual harassment" as well as concerns over SAM's "relaxed" COVID-19 safety policies "have been ignored as well." Again, I've reached out to SAM for comment and will update with their response to these claims.

The new bollards, which workers have described as hostile architecture, could prevent people from pitching a tent near the 1st and University entrance.
The new bollards, which workers have described as "hostile architecture," could prevent people from pitching a tent near the 1st and University St. entrance. PHOTO VIA SAM WORKERS

In their press release, Decolonize SAM said that guards with Star Protection Agency started working at the museum last week. In a separate email, a Decolonize SAM representative—who asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation—observed that in the week or so that the private guards have been on staff, there's been an "increase in negative interactions" between the guards and unhoused people with "as many as four [incident reports] in one day, which is not normal at all."

In a statement to The Stranger back in June, a museum spokesperson said SAM looked to hire "unarmed" external security with "specific training, including de-escalation and other harm-reduction methods," similar to the guards employed at the museum's Olympic Sculpture Park. The Decolonize SAM representative said the group felt the boycott became "necessary" after SAM leadership officially hired the private security firm and "made it clear they would not consider alternatives to hiring exterior security."

The other policy implemented in late June involved the installation of two stone bollards placed in an alcove near the Hammering Man entrance on the 1st Ave, and also the decision to reduce the size of the alcove near the 2nd Ave and University St emergency exit by leaving up two panels of plywood from their pandemic closure.

While the two panels of plywood have since been removed, the Decolonize SAM representative said that a flashing light has now been placed in the alcove to "dissuade people from sleeping there." UPDATE 9/8: The SAM says a new flashing light was not installed, but the current light fixture has "been in place for several years" and is "faulty and flickers." The museum representative also said SAM has "no plans to remove the bollards."

"Decolonize SAM’s boycott is part of a larger effort to highlight and dismantle settler-colonialist structures existing in museums today," the group wrote in their press release. "Investing in privatization and policing of community spaces perpetuates harm against marginalized people, and is a misuse of SAM’s funds that should be dedicated to reversing that harm."

Check out the Decolonize SAM's website and call for boycott here.