Remai Modern CEO Gregory Burke breaks silence on harassment allegation

Burke says he is 'eager to clear any speculation of wrongdoing since the allegation has been incorrectly characterized in media reports.'

Burke 'eager to clear any speculation of wrongdoing' about complaint filed in 2016

Remai Modern CEO and executive director Gregory Burke will leave the position on March 15, as he has accepted a job in New Zealand. He says a harassment allegation made against him was filed in 2016. (Remai Modern)

Remai Modern CEO and executive director Gregory Burke says he is "eager to clear any speculation of wrongdoing" in a harassment allegation filed against him by a woman who worked with him years ago at Mendel Art Gallery.

"I am aware of an unproven allegation against me that dates back to 2013 and was filed in 2016," Burke wrote in an emailed statement Monday. "I continue to cooperate fully and engage actively in the process.

"I am eager to clear any speculation of wrongdoing since the allegation has been incorrectly characterized in media reports."

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission is investigating the claim.

Burke's statement marks his first remark about the allegation, which was reported a week ago by CBC News, following several requests for comment to Burke. CBC News is not identifying the woman, whose allegation has not been proven in court. 

"Given the sensitivities involved, I am unable to speak publicly on the matter until the [human rights commission] process has concluded," Burke wrote. "I appreciate the messages of support that I have received to date and will provide further comment in the very near future."

Burke's last day at Remai Modern is March 15. He announced his resignation last December and is taking a new job at the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand. 

"It's a very difficult decision and I really am overwhelmed and humbled by the hundreds of thousands of visitors that we've received, particularly from the Saskatoon community, and the support we've received," he said at the time of his resignation from Remai Modern.

3 other Remai Modern complaints

Burke's statement came a day after Remai Modern's outgoing board chair issued his own statement saying three workplace complaints at Saskatoon's art museum were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. These complaints were separate from the harassment claim currently facing Burke.

Scott Verity emailed and tweeted a statement on Sunday night that simultaneously addressed recent reports of workplace concerns and defended the board's record, including Remai Modern's much-anticipated 2017 opening.

The outgoing chair of Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum said his board 'acted reasonably and responsibly to every' workplace concern raised. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Verity said the stress of launching the art museum affected employees and "contributed to workplace conflicts."

"In all cases, we listened and responded to concerns whenever they were raised," Verity wrote.

Three formal complaints were filed, he said. 

"We engaged qualified independent third parties to investigate and the claims were not substantiated," Verity wrote. "Overall, we acted reasonably and responsibly to every concern."

Verity also cited a separate complaint —  one filed with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission — although he did not specifically cite Burke. 

'Difficult' relationship with city cited

Verity's comments come after the City of Saskatoon confirmed its newly-created, in-house ombudsperson heard from "many" Remai Modern employees about workplace concerns, with some concerns arising as recently as last summer.

"The city is doing everything in its power to work with the [Remai board] to affect change," city manager Jeff Jorgenson told CBC News last week.

"The board is obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment and the city will do everything in its power to ensure that occurs."

Verity defended the board's independence in his statement, saying "the city has been smart and right to delegate" the job of "protecting the best interests of the museum and its employees."

Verity said the board did so under the pressure of shutting down the old Mendel Art Gallery and opening its replacement Remai Modern in October 2017, "to local, national and international acclaim."

"To the credit of the gallery's employees and volunteer board, these successes were accomplished in spite of criticism and doubt and a confusing and difficult governance relationship with the City of Saskatoon," Verity wrote.

Among the successes cited by Verity was "exceeding all first-year projections for revenue." The museum's audited financial statements for 2018 — its first full calendar year — are expected to be released to the board later this month. Verity's term as board president will end at that time. 

Verity cites board's independence

Verity cited steps the museum has taken to foster a healthy workplace culture at Remai Modern, such as leadership coaching, a healthy workplace assessment and a "safe and confidential process" for employees to voice their concerns to the city ombudsperson.

"The city has been right to entrust the stewardship and development of Remai Modern to an independent board of citizen volunteers," Verity concluded in his statement.

Verity and fellow executive board member Alison Norlan were recently not asked to return to the board for another term.

The specific reasons for their dismissals are unclear. Verity said he was given no reason. Mayor Charlie Clark has declined to speak to it. Norlen accused city council of trying to meddle in the operation of the museum.

Veronica Gamracy, a board member who resigned after word of Verity and Norlen's exit, echoed Verity's Sunday statement, saying the museum board's relationship with the city was "problematic."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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