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"Curator Says MoMA PS1 Wanted Her, Until She Had a Baby"



In the New York Times, Melena Ryzik reports that Nikki Columbus, an experienced curator and art editor, has filed a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights against MoMA PS1, which Columbus says withdrew her job offer after learning that she was pregnant. As Ryzik writes, Columbus was offered the job of curator of performance at PS1 in August 2017. But after mentioning to PS1 that she had just had a baby, the offer was rescinded a few weeks later. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

The #MeToo movement inspired [Columbus] to take action, she said. “I’m very lucky. I’m privileged, I’m a middle-class white woman, I have a partner with a good job who’s able to support me if the worst happened,” and she couldn’t find work. “I thought, if I’m afraid to speak up, who will speak up?”

“I don’t want this to happen to other women,” she added.

She approached A Better Balance, a nonprofit that lobbies for more work-life equity. Ms. Saylor, the attorney, is on the board; both her firm and the nonprofit took Ms. Columbus’s case.

Still, Ms. Columbus has yet to find a full-time job and remains unsure about her professional future if even the progressive art world seems unwelcoming to working mothers.

“This is the thing about discrimination,” she said. “And coming into this from a privileged position — you don’t think it’s going to happen to you.”

Image: MoMA PS1 in Queens, NY. Photographed by George Etheredge for the New York Times.


As a former intern at MoMA PS1, a curator and mother, I find these news utterly upsetting and worrisome. Yet, these news don’t really surprise me as this institution is run by a white male (Klaus Biesenbach) and the curatorial department is directed by another white male (Peter Eleey), whereas most other staff - ranging from curatorial assistants, assistants to the director, or communication staff - is female (its always fun to check out staff pages []). PS1 is yet another privileged art institution, constituted by unjust power hierarchies – not only when it comes to race but also gender.

I still remember the day, when a very pregnant woman entered our curatorial office at PS1. She said she would say goodbye now as she was entering maternity leave. Because she looked veeeery pregnant, I asked, when her due date was. She responded: today.
Coming from a European country with a much different maternity leave system, I was shocked that anyone would have to work until the actual DUE date. After having read the report of Ryzik, I understand the amount of pressure that must have been on her until the very last day of her pregnancy.

I strongly believe that cultural institutions carry a high responsibility for the way in which gender and racial representations are carried out – not only in the artists they choose to show but also in the people they choose to hire - who again, will be contributing to the decision making process on the former.
Unfortunately, PS1 has proven to perform a poor job in contributing to a more equitable society.