Mexic-Arte Museum Staff Allege Unsafe, Discriminative Work Environment and Improper Care of Artworks

by Jessica Fuentes May 16, 2022

On May 10, a group of current and former staffers from Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum launched a new Instagram account in the vein of @ChangeTheMuseum, which publishes anonymous complaints by museum workers typically highlighting issues faced by people of color working in predominantly white spaces. This new account, @ChangeMexicArteMuseum, has levied accusations against the museum’s Executive Director, Sylvia Orozco, and its Board of Directors.

Slide 1 of 5 from @ChangeMexicArteMuseum’s initial Instagram post.

The initial five-slide Instagram post was later shared on the Mexic-Arte Museum’s official Facebook page. According to the administrator of the @ChangeMexicArteMuseum account, different groups that consist of both past and present employees are managing the two social media accounts.

As of May 12, the museum’s official Facebook post had amassed seventy comments, some of which were in support of the demands by former staff, and others which stood in support of the institution and Ms. Orozco. In the days since, the post has been removed from the museum’s account. As well as raising significant concerns about an inequitable work environment and discriminatory practices, the post called for three specific actions, which are quoted below:

  • Over the last few weeks, Sylvia Orozco instructed staff that 2020 Taste of Mexico ticket holders could not be notified that their tickets would be honored or refunded. Staff has been treated as disposable in terms of being fired holding Sylvia Orozco accountable of misappropriating funds, fraud, and lack of transparency. We urge Orozco and BOD to commission an independent investigation and publicly report on the financial transparency of the museum. 
  • Mexic-Arte Museum Director, Sylvia Orozco knowingly exposed staff to condemned areas of the museum as office space. Black mold, exposed wiring, fire hazards, holes in wooden floor space, no fire exits, non functioning elevator or sprinkler system in case of fire were on site. Members of the Museum staff reported unsafe working environments repeatedly to city and health officials in the last five months. Museums are expected to comply with all applicable local, state, and federal laws, codes, and regulations. We urge OSHA and Department of Health and Human Services to immediately investigate the unsafe working conditions.
  • Redress the museum’s collecting practices and collection storage space. With respect to collection stewardship management, Sylvia Orozco has not monitored the environmental conditions of the storage space to mitigate the effects of fluctuation in temperature and humidity, air pollution, damage, pests and natural disasters on the collection. We urge Sylvia Orozoco and BOD to identify needs and determine priorities for the conservation/care of the collection and provide a public report.

Since making this original post, @ChangeMexicArteMuseum has also posted images and videos that allegedly depict hazardous areas of the museum’s building where staff had been assigned to work. The images show holes in the ground and ceiling, exposed wiring, and improperly stored artworks.

On May 12, a follow-up post was made to both the @ChangeMexicArteMuseum Instagram account and the Mexic-Arte Museum’s Facebook account. The post shared a screenshot of the museum’s Board of Directors and made additional demands of the institution and its board. (This post has since been removed from the museum’s Facebook account. You may view it on Instagram here). The text of this post is quoted, in part, below:

  1. We demand an apology on the Mexic-Arte Museum website and social media to all current and former employees who have experienced discrimination and micro aggressions by Sylvia Orozco, as well as an apology to the Austin community for failing to provide a safe space for visitors.
  2. We demand transparency in institutional operations, acquisitions, and collections.
  3. We demand the immediate removal of Sylvia Orozco who facilitated this toxic culture.
  4. We demand Mexic-Arte Museum to investigate the unsafe work environment with OSHA and Department of Health and Human Services.
  5. We demand an equitable redistribution of departmental budgets and staff wages that includes a permanent policy that all employees and contract workers make a living wage and receive healthcare.
  6. We demand a formal investigation into all complaints made about the abuse and harassment during the current director Sylvia Orozco 30+ year tenure. There is no HR on staff.

As of now, the museum has neither made a public response, nor explained how the now-deleted posts were made on its official Facebook page. Glasstire has contacted the museum, but has not received a response at this time.

A photograph of artwork leaned against a wall.

Art storage at Mexic-Arte Museum. Image courtesy of @ChangeMexicArteMuseum

The most recent post made by @ChangeMexicArteMuseum highlighted issues around storing work which was donated to the museum by Juan Sandoval, “a former reference librarian and former subject specialist for art and Chicanx studies at The University of Texas at El Paso.” The collection was amassed over thirty years and comprises over 1,500 artworks, including prints, photographs, paintings, sculptures, and popular art. Images on the Instagram account allegedly show the artworks stacked against each other and a wall, and the post claims that the space is infested by rats, carpet beetles, and powderpost beetles. 

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