Racism row at art gallery

Former William Morris Gallery staff member speaks out over her treatment, reports James Cracknell

Waltham Forest Council has said it will conduct a full investigation into allegations from a former art gallery employee that her career was held back by “systemic racism”.

Teanne Andrews wrote a lengthy blog post detailing her experiences of working at William Morris Gallery in Forest Road and how she believed her treatment had differed to that of her white colleagues.

The post, titled Hypocrisy, fake solidarity and glass ceilings: My perspective working at the William Morris Gallery, described Teanne’s experiences of working at the Walthamstow art gallery over the last four years.

Explaining that she had not been offered a permanent contract in her whole time working at the gallery, Teanne wrote: “I took the contracts that were offered to me at the time, so I could prove my ability and effectively demonstrate the significant impact of my work.

“At times, doubt crept in – I didn’t think I was as good as my white counterparts often sitting in team meetings. I began to not voice my opinions, and doing the age-old process of ‘keeping my head down’ and concentrating [on] my own little mission and why I was there. However, I started to speak out on things in the last year, which I felt were blatantly wrong and attempted to offer a new perspective to how to approach challenges.

“Being the only black person in the team (other than a steady stream of trainees never offered positions at the end of the year), this approach of speaking out would cause friction. Nonetheless I still maintained my stance of calling out things I felt we could improve upon. Instead, I was met with petty comments, gaslighting, and other not-so-subtle signs of systemic racism that is so embedded in many organisations.

“Having to fight against this on an almost daily basis has had a significantly negative impact on my health on more than one occasion. What continued to happen won’t be surprising to other black practitioners working in the arts sector.

“However, what I believe has been overlooked is the importance of culturally diverse leadership within the gallery and museum.”

Teanne also accused Waltham Forest Council, which owns and runs the art gallery, of using her in the London Borough of Culture 2019 celebrations as a “tokenistic gesture” in which she had been “paraded out as some kind of poster child for diversity”.

A gallery spokesperson said: “We are saddened by the serious allegations in a recent blog post by a William Morris Gallery staff member about her experiences while employed at the gallery. We recognise this colleague’s important contribution to the William Morris Gallery over the last few years.

“This colleague’s current position has been grant-funded, and we regret that there is no further funding available to support the specific job role.

“We can confirm that we have received a formal grievance complaint in relation to the allegations which will be investigated in full.

“William Morris Gallery staff work hard to plan and deliver exhibitions and activity programmes that nurture local talent, showcase the work of national and international creatives, and reflect the diverse Waltham Forest community and their lives. We denounce racism and discrimination in all their forms.”

Teanne has declined to comment further on the matter, but has been widely praised on social media for speaking out.