The Re-Education of the Museum of Fine Arts

Last year, the Museum of Fine Arts vowed to put an end to racism within its storied walls and set out to build a new kind of arts institution. Will the effort be over before the latest exhibit, or will the oldest, most prestigious museum in town write the new rules for how to succeed in Boston today?

Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

On a drizzly afternoon last spring, Makeeba McCreary was lingering over a cup of coffee while catching up with a colleague at the Museum of Fine Arts when an aide came barreling down the corridor toward her, shattering the morning calm as she weaved around tourists shaking rain from their umbrellas and art students sketching at café tables. McCreary, who at the time was only in her fifth month as the museum’s chief of learning and community engagement, sensed the aide’s urgency and asked what was wrong.

The aide breathlessly reported that the museum had a situation on its hands. A teacher chaperoning a class trip from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy had just reported to the visitors’ desk that her students had been subjected to racist comments by museum staffers and patrons alike. The middle schoolers had also been tailed so closely and disciplined so rudely by security guards that it essentially amounted to a case of museum-going while Black. McCreary leapt from her seat, ready to dart down the hall to talk to the teachers herself before the aide stopped her mid-stride: The group had already left the building and was on its way back to Dorchester.

That didn’t stop McCreary, who oversees all of the museum’s visitor-facing programming—from education and community events to the visitor experience—from lunging into action. She instructed her staff to brief MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum immediately, then raced back to her office to call an administrator she happened to know at the Davis Leadership Academy. “Look, something just happened. They’re in transit,” she told the administrator. “I don’t have the full story, but when I get it, and when you get it, can we make sure we talk as soon as possible?”

After she hung up the phone, McCreary convened her team to try to piece together what had gone wrong and what type of response was warranted. At first, museum officials assumed that the incident, while serious, could be addressed by engaging with the school directly. However, it soon became clear this was not a problem that could be solved through discussion alone.

Several days later, McCreary was at her desk when she received an email from a former colleague at Boston Public Schools, where she had worked as chief of staff. The message contained a link to a Facebook post from one of the trip’s chaperones, Marvelyne Lamy, describing the treatment the children had received at the MFA. According to Lamy, security guards told the children, who were all Black or brown, that “no food, drinks or watermelon” were allowed in the galleries, and had aggressively followed the schoolchildren, barking rudely at them when they touched a Greek statue but ignoring white students who did the same. Lamy went on to write that one patron referred to her students as “fucking black kids” and another told a child that “it’s a shame that she is not learning and instead stripping” when some of the girls mimicked fashion models strutting on a runway in a gallery with an interactive neon-lit exhibit and loud club music. McCreary’s stomach tightened as she saw the post was already racking up hundreds of reactions and shares. Within days, news outlets all across town were writing stories based on Lamy’s post, and the Davis Leadership Academy’s field trip was being covered by CNN, NBC, and the Washington Post.

This wasn’t the first time the MFA had come under scrutiny for racial insensitivity. Previous incidents, though, had mostly revolved around the museum’s collection, as well as its programming, which critics charged was informed by and catered to a white, Eurocentric perspective. The field trip, on the other hand, spoke of a more visceral brand of racism, the sort it doesn’t take a graduate degree to suss out. Less than a week after the incident, the MFA was engulfed by the most high-profile crisis in its recent history.

Given her charge to manage the many ways in which the museum interacts with visitors and the community, McCreary became the point person in the MFA’s response, leading efforts to convince the public that it genuinely wanted to change amid the uproar. Her commitment to building a more inclusive museum, though, went much deeper than simply putting out a public relations dumpster fire. She wanted to take the opportunity to retrain public-facing staff, establish relationships with the Bostonians who have felt alienated by the MFA, and reassess the curatorial and collecting practices that have held sway for its entire history. In short, she wanted to help transform a museum with a century and half of history behind it into a fundamentally different institution. This would be a tall order for anyone, let alone an outsider not even two years into her first job at a museum, but McCreary is hardly intimidated. “A hundred and fifty years of intentional work has gone into the barriers that currently exist,” she says. “Are we going to take 150 years to deconstruct it? I’m not.”

Nearly six months after shuttering its doors due to COVID-19, and four months after George Floyd’s killing unleashed calls across the nation for museums to change their culture and practices, the MFA reopened in late September. As it welcomes visitors into its galleries again, the top question on many people’s minds isn’t whether they’ll get a chance to see the latest Basquiat and Monet exhibits, or even whether it is safe to visit during a pandemic. It’s whether the exclusionary museum of yesteryear has finally become a place where all Bostonians feel welcome.

Since its founding in 1870, the MFA has been a beacon of learning in Boston, not only a resource to students of art and art history in the city, but a place where people from all over New England have come to connect with world culture. The museum expanded rapidly in its earliest decades, and in 1909 it moved from its original site in Copley Square to the iconic and imposing Beaux Arts–style palace on Huntington Avenue it still calls home. Since then, it has accumulated one of the largest collections of art in the world—at least a half million pieces. The MFA’s collection of early American art is unparalleled, its store of Japanese art is the largest outside of Asia, and its galleries boast landmark works by European masters such as Rembrandt, Degas, and Renoir.

Though its holdings are impressive, the MFA has long catered to a Eurocentric artistic sensibility. It’s only in the last decade that the museum has offered shows headlined by Black painters and sculptors with any sort of regularity. Meanwhile, the MFA’s historic collection of African art—featuring works by unnamed artists that were often originally taken from Africa by white colonists—has proven problematic in recent times. In 2012, for instance, when the Nigerian government requested that the museum return 32 artifacts originally looted in the late 19th century from the country (then a colony of Great Britain), the MFA agreed to return only eight of the artworks after two years of investigation and deliberation. While some applauded its willingness to repatriate anything from its collection, many activists and academics felt the MFA should have been less focused on identifying which pieces had been removed from their countries of origins without permission, and more focused on addressing the fundamental question of whether any artworks made by a colonized people could or should be “owned” in the first place.

Three years later, the museum came under fire again, this time for an event called “Kimono Wednesdays,” during which visitors were invited to don a replica of the kimono worn by Claude Monet’s wife in one of his paintings—never mind the special significance the garment has in Japanese culture. Protestors started showing up and confronting patrons who were posing in the gowns with signs bearing messages such as “Try on the kimono, learn what it’s like to be a racist imperialist!” Some activists disrupted an event celebrating the outgoing director, Malcolm Rogers, while others concentrated on drowning the museum’s Facebook page in critical posts. Though the MFA initially stood by its programming decision, circulating an internal memo stating, “We don’t think this is racist,” it eventually bowed to the pressure and ended the event, with then-deputy director Katie Getchell telling the Globe, “We didn’t intend to offend.”

Soon after the kimono event, Teitelbaum left his role directing the thoroughly hip Art Gallery of Ontario and took over as the director of the MFA. His explicit goal, laid out in a three-year strategic plan through 2020, was to change the museum’s culture and expand its appeal to ensure it was a place that belonged to all of Boston. An opening in 2018 for a chief of learning and community engagement would provide him with a key opportunity to advance this vision.

In many ways, McCreary wasn’t an obvious fit for the new role. She had never worked in a museum before and came from a career in public education. What made her perfect for the job, though, was precisely her distance from the institution. McCreary knew what it was like to feel as though she didn’t belong at the MFA. Despite growing up in the South End, the only times McCreary had ever felt comfortable approaching its monumental granite façade were on special occasions such as the annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. “The very things that made the museum beautiful and classic and breathtaking,” she says now, “also made it frightening and overwhelming and created barriers.” She immediately knew that this position would present her with a unique opportunity to take what she describes as “the most closed place to Black and brown people in Boston, the most challenging to de-fossilize,” and remake it from the inside out.

During a job interview with Teitelbaum, Getchell, five trustees, and two members of the MFA’s board of advisers, McCreary delivered a presentation of her vision for how the museum could make non-white Bostonians feel welcome. With her last slide, she hoped to make the changes she was proposing feel tangible. “If we win, here’s what it looks like,” she said, clicking forward to display a picture of the local artist Rob Gibbs, better known as ProBlak. “When the museum has a partnership with or shows the work of ProBlak, who was born and raised five blocks from here, who is an incredibly talented artist, who is a gifted educator, who is a cofounder of a prominent arts organization…when we’re in a relationship with him, that’s a signal of arriving.”

That was all the panel needed to hear—especially Teitelbaum, who believed McCreary’s lack of experience in the arts would fit well with his strategy to discourage museum officials from making decisions solely “in conversation with each other.” In McCreary, he says, he saw “the potential to think about what we do from a different point of view…and therefore make better decisions in service to our communities.”

When I met with McCreary in September, I found it easy to see why she proved so persuasive in her interview. Though her manner is understated, in conversation she has a talent for moving effortlessly from making a lighthearted, self-deprecating remark to hammering home a point with forceful clarity. More important, perhaps, she is warm, open, and modern—sporting a no-nonsense ponytail and a floral tattoo on her upper arm—the embodiment of the very shift in the museum’s culture on which Teitelbaum has staked his tenure.

From her first day on the job in 2019, McCreary began to sense how challenging it would be to fulfill her vision. She jokes now that when she initially walked into the MFA, she had assumed the institution’s racism would be like “a big cloud” that could be seen and felt. Rather, what she encountered were a series of racially insensitive incidents. There was the time someone confused her with another colleague of color, despite the fact that the two women look nothing alike. Then, when she was entering the MFA along with Teitelbaum, the museum director sailed through security while McCreary was stopped and had her badge checked three times before she was allowed to continue. McCreary likens these incidents to paper cuts: “They don’t bleed necessarily,” she says, “but they don’t heal right away.”

Sometimes, though, the incidents were more overt. Merely a month after McCreary started, a college student visiting the museum complained that a member of the staff had made a racist comment. Though she declined to provide details of what transpired, McCreary told me the MFA had a choice in that case to treat the student with respect or say something racist, and it chose the latter.

McCreary knew that unless the museum addressed the underlying and systemic biases that produced these situations, they would continue to occur. So she told Teitelbaum she wanted to plan a series of what she called “race roundtables” to engage students, teachers, and artists from around Boston to suggest how the MFA could improve. The first one was held in May. But within weeks, the fateful Davis Leadership Academy field trip made national news, and a much more urgent, public, and profound reckoning became unavoidable.

Makeeba McCreary is leading the charge to make the MFA more inclusive. / Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One week after the incident, McCreary left her office at the MFA and drove to the Davis Leadership Academy to speak with the students and educators who were on the field trip that ended in disaster. Walking down a hallway toward a classroom, her footfalls echoed in the empty corridor as she passed by the silent gaze of portraits of Marcus Garvey, Thurgood Marshall, and Barack Obama, the types of Black leaders the academy hoped its students would aspire to become. As she approached the classroom, McCreary’s mind kept returning to all of the times she had personally experienced racism. The afternoon a white guy stared her down on the street. The day she was followed by staff while shopping in a store. The evening she was mistreated in a restaurant. Each time she had said nothing. The kids she was about to meet, she reflected, had made a different choice.

Once inside the classroom, McCreary did something that might not be expected of a representative of an institution when facing its accusers: She commended the children for calling out the MFA. “I am so proud that you decided to speak up, to hold us accountable,” McCreary said. She told them she knew how scary it was, how vulnerable it made them feel to stand up, but that “without it it’s like a tree falling in the woods.”

Meanwhile, back at the museum, McCreary’s staff was already in the earliest stages of reimagining the process for handling school groups. It was also examining how it responds to visitor complaints and reassessing the way in which it trains its security guards and docents.

McCreary’s roundtables went on as planned, as did the museum’s annual Juneteenth celebration, typically the event that draws the largest crowd of Black Bostonians. That year, McCreary assembled a Juneteenth panel that included Wellesley art historian Nikki Greene, the performance artist Destiny Polk, and Jason Talbot, who’d spent untold hours wandering the museum’s galleries as a kid while his mother worked at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Later he went on to cofound the nonprofit Artists for Humanity, which funds art education for kids in public schools. “I love the MFA,” he said when we spoke over the summer. Still, Talbot says he almost didn’t come that day: Given the media maelstrom and the anger he had heard from neighbors and colleagues, he feared appearing at the museum would only “add fuel to the fire.”

What ultimately persuaded him to show up was the fact that McCreary, whom he had known since he was a young man, was leading the panel. When he arrived at the museum and saw McCreary, his voice shook as he told her, “I am only here because of you.” McCreary found her emotions tugging in opposite directions. “I was heartbroken,” she says, “and grateful at the same time. Thankful that he was willing to take that leap of faith.”

Emotions also ran high at the first roundtable McCreary hosted after the field trip, which featured a who’s who of Boston’s most influential Black artists, including Paul Goodnight, L’Merchie Frazier, Gloretta Baynes, and Rob Stull. Though McCreary says there was “a lot of anger, a lot of frustration” in that room, it was tempered by a sense among the older artists in attendance that the focus shouldn’t be on relitigating the MFA’s failures, but instead determining what the next generation of artists really needs from the museum.

At the same time that meeting was unfolding, ProBlak was unveiling a mural he’d just completed near the Piano Factory in Lower Roxbury. Stull mentioned it to his fellow artists, and once the meeting adjourned, he packed his Jeep full of attendees and ferried them the short distance over to Tremont Street, where a small crowd had gathered in a vacant lot at the end of a row of brownstones to gawk at a three-story-tall image of a Black boy carrying his little sister on his shoulders, both grinning exuberantly. The scene was about as far removed from the stuffy confines of a more-than-century-old museum as you could get: a few dozen folks from the neighborhood, whiling away a mild, early-summer evening in admiration of as pure an expression of Black joy as could be found anywhere in Boston.

McCreary didn’t accompany them to see the mural’s unveiling that night, but she did one better: She invited Gibbs into the museum to discuss a formal partnership with the MFA. Before long, she had named both Gibbs and Stull artists in residence, effectively hitting fast-forward on the vision for the museum’s future she had first laid out during her job interview.

She wasn’t done yet. A Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition was already slated to be a centerpiece of the 2020 calendar, designated as a yearlong celebration of the MFA’s 150th anniversary. The show—titled “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation”—swiftly emerged as an opportunity for McCreary to bring her initiatives together in a way that showcased the museum’s new approach to community engagement. Working with the exhibition’s curators, McCreary invited a group of 30 people with insight into the New York scene of the ’80s that Basquiat personified to give feedback. The panel had already begun tweaking its layout, as well as the interpretive texts that accompanied the artwork, when the museum shut down in March. Plans were also in the works for an ambitious program that would connect the show with the vibrant artistic community outside the MFA’s walls, everything from a map of street art in Roxbury that visitors could pick up as they exited the gallery to a new mural from ProBlak. The MFA’s broader commitment to diversifying its collection became even more obvious in May, when the museum announced it was pursuing the acquisition of 24 works by contemporary artists of color, and that it had already purchased two paintings by Jas Knight and Ramiro Gomez.

In less than a year, the MFA had undergone a remarkable pivot, shifting from an institution widely criticized for its exclusive culture to one that seemed to be finding a way to engage outside voices in every facet of its operations. Talbot says McCreary deserves much of the credit. “If Makeeba wasn’t at the museum, I wouldn’t be so positive on it right now,” he explains. “Without her, I don’t know that Rob Gibbs would be painting a giant mural in Roxbury for the museum. It’s her influence that’s making those bigger transformative changes.”

The museum commissioned this Roxbury mural from Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs, now an artist in residence at the institution. / Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Not everyone, though, has been as optimistic or impressed with the MFA’s progress. While McCreary’s visit to the Davis Leadership Academy helped turn a crisis that was boiling over into a more manageable simmer, the MFA’s institutional response to the incident left many Bostonians feeling that the museum didn’t quite understand what everyone was so mad about. A statement by the MFA related to the results of its internal investigation essentially cast blame on patrons for the racist treatment the students suffered and disputed the schoolchildren’s claims of being followed by security, explaining that guards had simply been changing shifts during their visit. It also said the staff member who had greeted the group insisted they had been told “no water bottles,” rather than “no watermelon.”

If the MFA had hoped the report would finally put the incident in the rearview mirror, though, it was wrong. Not long after, Attorney General Maura Healey launched her own inquiry into the field trip; at the same time, the legal advocacy group Lawyers for Civil Rights presented a letter to the museum on behalf of a number of students who had attended, demanding that it not just offer a general apology for how they had been treated, but accept its “involvement with the racial and gender discrimination that happened on its own premises,” including its “own role and its staff’s role in the incidents.”

The involvement of the AG’s office led to nearly a year of negotiations between its lawyers and the MFA. While everyone involved describes the talks between the parties as cordial, the process included its share of disappointments. Tanisha Sullivan, head of Boston’s NAACP chapter, said Davis Leadership Academy had originally requested the museum provide funding for a social worker or therapist at the school who could support students involved in the incident. The museum declined that request, Sullivan says.

Ultimately, the MFA signed a memorandum of understanding with Healey’s office, agreeing to commit $500,000 over three years to bolster its engagement with Boston’s non-white communities and address the specific concerns voiced by students and educators at the Davis Leadership Academy, as well as submit biannual reports on its progress to the state. While just over $166,000 dollars a year is hardly a token sum, it’s hard for some to ignore that it represents only a small fraction of the museum’s $600 million endowment. “I see it as a start,” Sullivan says. “It’s my hope that once those investments are made, that they lead to longer-term investments.” After the terms of the settlement were released in early May, Lamy, the teacher who originally took the incident public on Facebook, echoed Sullivan’s cautious optimism, even as she said she had no plans to return to the museum herself, telling the New York Times, “There are other institutions that I can fully support that would welcome me in without any hesitation.”

The agreement between the AG’s office and the MFA would not be enough to put the museum’s troubled relationship with race behind it, however. Several weeks after the settlement was made public, the slaying of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer prompted hundreds of artists—as well as some MFA staffers—to sign a scathing open letter to Boston’s cultural institutions, repudiating the idea of “reform” and calling to “dismantle all institutions invested in anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and the protection of property over life.”

Artist and SMFA professor Anthony Romero co-authored the letter and puts the case against legacy art institutions in stark terms. “The MFA is built for the exhibition of looting and plundering,” he says. “There is a violent colonial expression in the architecture, in the objects that it hides. It’s built into the fabric of that place.” One of Romero’s colleagues at SMFA, Neda Moridpour, says that the museum’s recent reckoning has not, as far as she knows, included a broad conversation about its colonial art collection and repatriation. For her part, Moridpour has been unimpressed with McCreary’s roundtables after attending two of them, dismissing them as an “advertising campaign” and paraphrasing what she heard in those sessions as, “We are a colonialist, imperialist, and capitalist institution, and we are kind enough to think about opening our doors to these communities. You all should be thankful.”

In addition to calls for the museum to take a hard look at the provenance and racial diversity of its collection, many visitors also object to the way art is displayed at the MFA. For example, on entering the Art of the Americas Wing, “You see these massive portraits of white men on horses,” says Jami Powell, the associate curator of Native American Art at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum. “Seemingly never-ending, gallery after gallery of paintings of white men on horses.” Works by Native artists, meanwhile, are tucked away on the basement level. “Through three other galleries, by the bathrooms, is where the Native art is,” she says. “I know, somebody’s art always has to be by the bathroom. But it’s usually not the white dudes whose art is right next to the bathrooms.”

Similarly, Wellesley’s Nikki Greene pushes her art history students to question the implied objectivity of the MFA’s galleries when she brings them to the museum. One of the artworks she always makes a point of discussing with them is John Singer Sargent’s painting of Thomas McKeller, a Black man who was one of his principal models. “You have this gallery of Sargent portraits: different clients, different Boston aristocracy, they’re fully clothed, they have on their suits and their lace and their jewels, so they’re clearly seen as people of great stature,” she explains. “And then you have a painting of a Black man on his knees. He’s essentially on display, completely nude in this awkward position.” Greene recognizes in the curatorial choice to display these portraits together a disconcerting blindness to the discrepancy in how Sargent’s subjects are portrayed. “It always struck me that, because it was done by Sargent, there was never this sense of…should we have this here? Is this okay?”

All of this underscores the enormity of the task the MFA faces. It’s one thing to retrain your visitor-facing staff and foster a deeper connection between the museum and the neighborhoods that surround it. It is quite another for the institution itself to throw off the historical white supremacy that its galleries and collection manifest. It’s also unfair to expect McCreary, one of the few Black leaders at an otherwise overwhelmingly white enterprise, to be the sole author of what amounts to seismic changes. “It’s so hard to be the only [one],” Greene remarked when we spoke. “It’s hard to expect a single person to come in and undo possible damage that has transpired over years or decades.”

When I visited the MFA this September, the museum was still closed but was nevertheless a beehive of activity, its staff busily preparing to finally reopen the doors at the end of the month. In the basement, workers in hardhats shot from one passage to another, bobbing around the storage crates and rolling racks of paint that were scattered across the concrete floor. Upstairs, the quiet of the darkened halls was interrupted by the regular pops of drills wielded by the carpenters installing Plexiglas dividers at the visitors’ center. Crepe paper and plastic had been carefully placed over the most fragile artworks, while the ladders and canisters of antiseptic wipes that were haphazardly scattered throughout the galleries paid testament to the rapidity of the transformation the museum was undergoing.

At the same time the MFA’s new COVID-19 protocols were being explained to me (timed entry tickets, different wings gradually reopening as attendance picked back up), I was able to take a look at some of the changes that had been made to the Art of the Americas wing. Most notable was the removal of John Singleton Copley’s wall-size painting of England’s George IV that once hung outside the main entrance. As if taking notes directly from Jami Powell, the space once occupied by the imposing canvas of a powerful white man on a horse will soon display paintings by the Kiowa and Caddo painter T.C. Cannon. Inside, the interpretive text that accompanies Thomas Sully’s The Passage of the Delaware, a heroic portrait of George Washington, had been updated to account for the presence in the background of William Lee, a Black man he enslaved. Elsewhere, a few paintings by Joshua Johnson, a free Black artist who worked in Baltimore in the early 19th century, had been hung, as had an empty frame paired with a short text headlined, “Who Is Missing?” that explained how limited a view early American portraiture provides of the era.

Just downstairs from the airy courtyard that connects the Art of the Americas Wing to the rest of the MFA, I got a look at “Writing the Future,” which showcases the work of household names such as Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well as several other lesser-known but no less talented visual artists influenced by hip-hop and graffiti culture in the ’80s. The exhibition includes a Sony boom box tagged by Futura, a multi-panel Afrofuturist vista by Rammellzee, and kaleidoscopic canvases from Lady Pink.

Far from just offering a snapshot of the moment in which these artworks were created, though, co-curators Liz Munsell and Greg Tate demonstrate the period’s continuing influence by concluding the exhibit with five “tribute drawings” by Rob Stull, in which the Boston native uses his comic illustrator’s style to render portraits of four of the artists who appear in the show, as well as a fifth portrait of ProBlak, whose new mural, at the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, was commissioned by the MFA as part of his residency. Completed in late June and just a 20-minute walk from the museum, Breathe Life 2 features a young girl blowing bubbles while seeming to levitate in the air, her backpack spilling open to reveal everything from an album by A Tribe Called Quest to a silhouette inspired by the groundbreaking artwork of Kara Walker.

Hopes are high within the museum that the visibility of Breathe Life 2 will help generate interest among residents of Roxbury and beyond to come check out “Writing the Future.” If all goes according to plan, the show will run through the spring, and McCreary is optimistic that the absence of the usual crowd of tourists will encourage folks who live in close proximity to the museum to stop by.

This month, the MFA will also unveil “Monet and Boston,” an exhibition that explores the city’s pivotal role in the collection and study of the famed Impressionist’s work. “I’m fascinated to explore how you get someone to walk up from the Basquiat exhibition to see the Monet,” McCreary says. She imagines a young visitor—whether a Black teenager from Roxbury or a white kid from Wellesley—and wonders how she can get that individual to feel that the art on view is speaking to them, no matter their race or circumstance.

In October, the MFA’s board of trustees elected its first ever African-American man, Edward Greene, to serve as board president. Over the coming months, the importance of Teitelbaum’s choice to empower McCreary as the main driver of the museum’s new culture will only become more salient as the public gets to see what that new vision looks and feels like inside the MFA as opposed to just hearing about the museum’s commitment to change. However herculean her task may be, nearly everyone I spoke with for this article agreed that she was up to it. As Stull puts it: “There’s no way her efforts aren’t going to be recognized years from now as a catalyst that really changed the cultural landscape of the city.”

No matter how influential the position, though, it’s important to remember that one person’s actions have never been the same as a revolution. McCreary herself is realistic about the role she’s playing, and its limits. “I can’t do it alone,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m there. I accept that responsibility, knowing that really, for it to stick, for this to be real, there’s got to be more voices at the table.” She brought up the conversations that happened internally at the museum after Floyd’s killing and the intensity of the anger it inspired in her white colleagues. “I need that same outrage from the people who care about this museum in moments when there’s not a national platform,” she says. “All of us are going to have to demand more. Demand better faster.”