An Instagram account called @cancelartgalleries, which is a platform for individuals to anonymously air personal experiences with or the witnessing of harassment, discrimination, and racism in the commercial art sector, has in recent days published numerous posts by anonymous individuals about Bill Arning, the former director of the Contemporary Art Museum Houston (CAMH). When Arning’s departure from the CAMH was announced in 2018, the museum stated that he had “resigned effective immediately.”
The Instagram posts allege unsolicited sexual advances by Arning, allege a general history of Arning’s sexual behavior in relation to his role in the art community, and also contain allegations around his behavior with a member, members, or former members of an ongoing program at CAMH called the Teen Council, which is a vehicle for area students in grades 9-12. Earlier this week, the CAMH commented on one of @cancelartgalleries’ posts regarding some of these allegations, which @cancelartgalleries subsequently published to its account as a post. Today, CAMH sent Glasstire an expanded statement explaining why Arning was “removed” from his role at the museum.
Last week, Glasstire published a news article about Arning’s plans to open a commercial art gallery in Houston, following his public announcement of that information.
CAMH’s statement to Glasstire is published in full below:
In October of 2018, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) immediately removed Bill Arning as director when allegations of improper — but not illegal — communications and actions with artists were investigated by our legal counsel and found to be credible. CAMH was also made aware that Mr. Arning had a relationship with an adult artist who was previously included in a Teen Council curated exhibition at CAMH. However, there was no indication or allegation that this relationship began when this individual was a minor. This week, anonymous social media postings have come to our attention concerning Mr. Arning involving new and very troubling accusations, which if true should be referred immediately to law enforcement or a sexual assault hotline. To be clear, at no time has anyone provided CAMH’s leadership any information of sexual assault or any other illegal behavior regarding the former director. CAMH takes these matters very seriously, and encourages anyone with any information of illegality to come forward. As evident in the institution’s swift actions nearly two years ago, CAMH is committed to protecting and caring for artists, our staff, and our community — this is our duty as a public museum.
CAMH reported the new allegations to the Houston Police Department. Any person who was affected or has information regarding allegations may contact HPD at 713–308-0080 and reference investigation # 1226552-20.
On @cancelartgalleries, a few commenters called on Glasstire to investigate Arning’s behavior. Glasstire has been and will continue to reach out to people in the Houston art community and beyond for insight and information. Thus far, Glasstire has not been approached or contacted by anyone who can or will go on the record about the allegations that have appeared on the @cancelthegalleries social media account. If you or someone you know can or would communicate with Glasstire about the allegations, please email [email protected] and [email protected] If the nature of the allegations are criminal, please contact the police using the information above.
The Instagram account @cancelartgalleries, whose founder/s remain anonymous, is one of a handful of social media accounts that have appeared in recent months that offer an outlet for individuals who have been employed in the art industry to publish anonymous accounts of incidents or experiences they’ve had or witnessed in their current or former workplaces around issues of sexism, racism, homophobia, harassment, abuse of power, negligence, and bad-faith actions and initiatives. Other accounts include @changethemuseum and @abetterguggenheim.
Update September 17, 2020: In response to a question from Glasstire about whether the CAMH removed Arning from his position or if Arning resigned, the museum said the following:
“Following its October 2018 investigations of Mr. Arning’s conduct, CAMH’s board determined to separate from Arning, giving him the choice of resigning or being fired, and he chose to voluntarily leave his post. At that time, and to this day, no one has provided CAMH leadership any information regarding alleged sexual assault or any other illegal behavior regarding the former director.”
Hi. Would you consider letting a source speak without their name credited? I am wondering what “on the record” means in this situation.
In the process of gathering information on this matter, Glasstire will speak to anyone, on or off the record. As of this writing, people we have spoken with have spoken off the record.
A story in Hyperallergic about the anonymous reporting site emphasized the vulnerability of those who complain. The focus was on making Boards aware of problems, as it was felt that they generally were not; and to press Boards to take action in multiple ways. Pursuing criminal prosecution was not the focus. Changing the culture of institutions was.
The CAMH board was certainly aware that Arning slept around a lot (it was hardly a secret), but I’m sure they didn’t want to open themselves to accusations of homophobia or of discriminating against him based on his sexual orientation. That these anonymous accusations are being palpitated over so much now is absurd, as is the scrambling to disavow Arning and to “like” any social media post that does so. Arning wasn’t drugging people. He wasn’t molesting boys. As far as we know, these were grown people, legally of age. If he abused his position as director of a museum, then he deserved to get fired for it. WHICH HE DID. His career was already damaged. Any bloodlust to destroy him further is McCarthyism. Any snuffling into his sex life is prurient.
I will leave my name …. Jim Pirtle. Again my name is Jim Pirtle and this is my opinion and I own it. I think nameless accusations wreak of Macarthyism. And your sexuality is none of my business or society’s concern if minors are not involved.
I imagine the details are complex and nuanced and Arning may have been “inappropriate ” . I don’t know. But the destroying a man via an Instagram trial scares me. The process becomes less about truth and more about signaling . .The American experiment in using reason to seek a more perfect union is under assault. And the mob with a pitchfork or iPhone is part of this assault on our basic principles.
I think that there is a history of people not coming out with their name for justifiable reasons. From Penn State (Jerry Sandusky) to the past and current accusations to the POTUS, providing your name doesn’t always expediate justice or even deter the alleged abuser. I think anonymity should be respected.
I hope sexuality is not the issue here; it is allegations of harassment.