Former Philadelphia Museum of Art executive exposed: Abuse of power brought to light

Joshua R. Helmes

After a New York Times article was published last week, hundreds of current and former Philadelphia Museum of Art staff members have signed a statement in solidarity with the women who spoke out in the piece against a former museum executive. 

Joshua R. Helmer, 31, has been accused of using his power and entering into relationships with subordinate female museum staffers while offering them possibilities of professional advancement. The former Philadelphia Museum of Art assistant director of interpretation worked at the respected establishment for four years from 2014 to 2018 before apparently leaving on his own accord. “It was just my time,” Helmer said according to The New York Times. “I was looking for new opportunities.”

However, it was found out that the Philadelphia Museum of Art barred Mr. Helmer from entering the building last year in an email it sent to staff members.

After leaving Philadelphia, Helmer emerged in a new role as the executive director of the Erie Art Museum making him the youngest art director in the country. However, according to inquirer.com, on Monday afternoon, the museum said in a statement from its board of directors that Helmer “is no longer employed at the Erie Art Museum.” A petition had called for his removal.

In his time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Erie Art Museum, Helmer was said to have engaged in several instances of abuse where women he was dating were left feeling helpless, crying at work and even puking from the stress. 

Now, after The New York Times article has become public, the PMA has brought to light what happened years ago with Helmer. 

“Former and current staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art listed below wish to express solidarity with our current and former colleagues who so bravely spoke out in The New York Times and those in Erie who did the same. We believe their stories and admire their courage,” the statement from the Philadelphia Museum of Art reads. 

According to inquirer.com, the list includes several notable names, including Kathleen Foster, senior curator of American art and director of the museum’s Center for American Art; Felice Fischer, curator of Japanese art and senior curator of East Asian art; Peter Barberie, the museum’s curator of photographs; and Elisabeth Agro, associate curator of American modern and contemporary crafts and decorative arts.

In a statement, Philadelphia Museum of Art Director and CEO Timothy Rub also told the Inquirer that “we are listening closely and we are also taking action.We care deeply for our staff and firmly believe that all voices should be heard. As I noted to staff last Friday, we will be engaging outside consultants to conduct a close review of our workplace environment, our policies and programs, including training activities so we understand how we can be better in the future. We will do everything we can to address the concerns of staff so that we can move forward together.”

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