Robert Lynch, executive director of Americans for the Arts, the powerful national advocacy group, has resigned following complaints and investigations into the organization’s equity and diversity practices and workplace management.
Mr Lynch, who has held a leadership role there for more than three decades, will take paid leave, the group’s board of directors said in a statement on Wednesday. “It has been shown that despite our best efforts, we have not achieved our goals of leading, serving, and promoting the various networks of businesses and individuals who practice the arts in America,” the statement said.
Mr. Lynch, 71, was a prominent advocate of resources for nonprofit arts organizations. He was also a member of the Biden-Harris Transition Team for Arts and Humanities. His departure from his position at AFTA, where his annual compensation package was reported to be over $ 900,000 in tax returns, was voluntary and effective immediately, the statement said. (Mr Lynch’s work with the Biden-Harris transition team is complete, a spokesman said.)
His absence should enable a thorough review of AFTA, which has over $ 100 million in foundation assets. “It is Bob’s firm belief – one regrettably shared by the Board of Directors – that the most appropriate course of action at this time is to proceed with the investigation without the distraction and in the best interests of the mission of the organization and the field.” Statement said.
The move comes after a growing chorus of criticism from current and former AFTA staff and advisory board members who said the organization has failed to fulfill its mission regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. There were also complaints about sexual harassment and a management culture based on intimidation rather than transparency. Critics had asked Mr. Lynch to resign because he had not responded to the problems they listed for a long time. The excitement was also the subject of a report in the Washington Post earlier this week that detailed the issues, including reports of widespread reprisals among senior executives.
In recent months, as calls for diversification of AFTA’s leadership and better service to creative communities and paint artists increased, the group publicly defended its actions and promised to do better. It is one of several arts organizations, large and small, that have recently been forced to reckon with a history of inequality in their ranks and programs.
In its statement, AFTA said it will now be the subject of two independent investigations, one by law firm Proskauer Rose regarding the work environment and one by consulting firm Hewlin Group, which focus on AFTA’s policies and procedures regarding diversity will, equity and inclusion.
A retired former board member, U.S. Army Brig. General Nolen Bivens will lead the group as interim president and managing director, the board said.