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The week in art news – far-right French mayor reopens museums in defiance of Covid shutdown

12 February 2021

The mayor of Perpignan, Louis Aliot, has reopened four municipal museums in the southern French city, in defiance of national Covid-19 restrictions. The mayor, who is the deputy leader of the far-right National Rally party, issued a decree to reopen the museums on Monday 9 February; the local police prefecture promptly filed a motion to block the order. A summary hearing will be held in the administrative court of Montpellier on 15 February.

The J. Paul Getty Trust has launched a $38.5m fund to support non-profit arts organisations in Los Angeles. The LA Arts Recovery Fund, which pools contributions from both local and national funders, is a response to the devastating financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, in a city where museums and many other venues have been unable to reopen since March 2020. The fund hopes to attract further donors to increase the pool to $50m, to be distributed in the form of grants that will be announced this spring.

Neil Benezra, director of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is stepping down after 19 years at the helm of the institution. Speaking to the New York Times, Benezra said that ‘the time feels right to begin our succession planning’. SFMOMA has faced a challenging year with closures due to the pandemic and controversies over the museum’s handling of what its employees have described as structural inequalities around race; Benezra said that his decision ‘has absolutely nothing to do with’ the latter. Benezra will remain in position until a new director is appointed.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has named the members of a new Commission on Diversity in the Public Realm. The mayor’s office has described the role of the commission as being ‘to enrich and add to the current public realm, and advise on better ways to raise public understanding behind existing statues, street names, building names and memorials’ – not ‘to preside over the removal of statues’. The 15-strong panel includes the actor Riz Ahmed, director of Chisenhale Gallery Zoé Whitley, and Robert Bevan, architecture critic for the Evening Standard.

The CEO of the Royal British Columbia Museum, Jack Lohman, has resigned after an investigation into staff reports of racism and discrimination at the institution. The investigation, carried out by the British Columbia Public Service Agency, was launched in response to claims of ‘outright discrimination, white privilege, bullying and micro-aggressions’ made by the former head of the museum’s Indigenous collections and repatriation, Lucy Bell, who tendered her resignation last July. Lohman, who joined the RBCM in 2012, will be replaced by interim CEO Daniel Muzyka.