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MMFA in turmoil, as fired director shoots back

Nathalie Bondil, the former director general and chief curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is defending herself after being fired Monday because the museum’s board concluded she had failed to address a toxic workplace.

In a statement Monday, the board said it had tried since last October to work with Bondil to address problems but that she had refused to co-operate, so it had no choice but to fire her.

“This story is hiding another story,” Bondil told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak in an interview Tuesday morning.

“The other story is that there is a huge problem of governance, especially about the process of recruitment,” Bondil said, taking issue with the recent hiring of a new director of the curatorial division for the museum.

‘Very troubling’ report

Bondil was named head of the museum in 2007. Over the years, she brought in high-profile exhibitions and oversaw a significant expansion.

Supporters of Nathalie Bondil say the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts flourished under her leadership. An online petition has been launched seeking to suspend her dismissal until an internal audit has been conducted. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Michel de la Chenelière, who chairs the board, acknowledged Bondil’s tremendous contributions to the museum in an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, but said an investigation prompted by harassment complaints last fall revealed serious problems that couldn’t be ignored.

“It’s great if the museum shines, but if it doesn’t shine on the inside, that’s bad,” de la Chenelière said.

He said the board’s number one responsibility was to protect employees.

“It’s 2020. We can’t close our eyes to a toxic workplace environment. It’s unacceptable,” he said.

De la Chenelière said he couldn’t go into detail about the psychological harassment allegations because they are confidential, but he said they were “very troubling.”  He said that Bondil and other senior employees were named in the allegations.

Concern over board’s hiring practices

Bondil acknowledged there had been “pressures” at the museum over the last couple of years during a significant expansion, but she said she considered that normal.

She said she had worked with the board to address the issues and that she felt the matter was mostly solved.

Bondil said the suggestion she refused to co-operate is “absolutely wrong.”

“It’s very important, frankly, so I would never, never erase any issue about a toxic climate,” Bondil said.

She said she believes her firing is connected to her questioning of a recent hiring decision by the board.

Mary Dailey-Desmarais was recently named director of the curatorial division for the museum, a responsibility that used to fall to Bondil before the board created this new position.

Dailey-Desmarais is part of the powerful Desmarais family, which is one of the museum’s biggest donors.

Bondil contends Dailey-Desmarais wasn’t the best candidate for the job and says the board fired her when she let them know she disagreed with the choice.

“They want to keep the storytelling away from another story which could annoy them,” Bondil said.

De la Chenelière said Dailey-Desmarais was hired because of her qualifications — she has a PhD in art history from Yale University — and not because of her family connection.

“I don’t see any link, none. The name Desmarais is her husband’s name, and she has all the qualities necessary to do this job,” said de la Chenelière.

“Her work has been recognized by other museums in Canada and the U.S. and she’s quite apt to manage this department,” he said.

Online petition

An online petition requesting an extraordinary general assembly for museum members so they could learn more about the process that led to Bondil’s firing had more than 600 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

Quebec’s culture minister, Nathalie Roy, told La Presse last week that she was stunned at Bondil’s firing. But Tuesday, she released a statement saying the province won’t interfere in the museum’s internal management.

“I would like to thank Ms. Bondil for her artistic vision, which will undoubtedly have contributed to making the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts a world-renowned institution in the museum world and to making it known beyond our borders,” Roy’s statement said.


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