Outgoing Montreal Museum of Fine Arts chief curator says she was fired for being ‘nitpicky’

Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Nathalie Bondil, speaking at a press conference in Montreal on Sept. 23, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Nathalie Bondil, outgoing Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) director and chief curator, says she was fired from her position because she was “nitpicky,” and not because she created a toxic work environment as claimed by the institution’s board of directors.

She told The Canadian Press on Tuesday that she will remember the word used by board chairperson Michel de la Chenelière to justify her termination for the rest of her life.

She said Chenelière didn’t really elaborate on how she was nitpicky, but Bondil believes it was because she did not endorse the executive committee appointment of Mary-Dailey Desmarais as director of conservation.

“What I see is that on June 26 I was told that we will renew my contract, and that on July 6, the day of Desmarais’ appointment, I was dismissed,” said Bondil.

She says Chenelière asked her to say the choice in hiring Desmarais was unanimous, which she says she refused to do, as it was not true.

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Read more: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts severs ties with chief curator Nathalie Bondil

Bondil also allegedly disagreed with Desmarais’s incoming salary, which she said was higher than that of a director who had more experience than Desmarais. Bondil argued that questioning a process and issuing an opinion was seen as being fussy.

She added that she very much likes Desmarais, but simply thought there were better, more qualified candidates who could have been chosen.

According to Bondil, she proposed a different job for Desmarais, but her proposition was shot down by the board.

“She would have been deputy chief curator. It would have given her the opportunity to train, grow and gain leadership under the right conditions.”

The museum issued a statement on Wednesday expressing their support of Desmarais in her new role.

“We feel strongly that Mary-Dailey Desmarais’s outstanding educational background — a PhD in Art History from Yale University — coupled with her experience as curator at the Museum, will make her a valued and trustworthy director of the Curatorial team,” read the statement signed by all members of the MMFA’s curatorial team.

On Monday, the MMFA said it was terminating Bondil’s contract following what it describes as “disturbing testimonies from employees reporting an obvious deterioration in its workplace climate.”

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The board of directors terminated the contract “with regret” and the decision is “applicable as of today,” according to a statement issued on Monday.

Since 2019, the museum has seen several key employees leave. The organization says it has been made aware of disturbing testimonies from employees.

Last October, the union alerted the board of directors. Cabinet RH, an external firm, was then hired and mandated to shed light on the situation.

The firm’s report notably mentioned a significant and multifactorial degradation of the work climate, described by certain employees as “toxic,” according to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The gravity of the reported facts quickly led the board of directors to “initiate discussions with Ms. Bondil in order to find solutions to this situation that was deemed unacceptable,” it added.

Read more: Missing hand from totem pole returned to Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The board reports “repeated attempts” over the past few months to find a solution, arguing that it “came up against Ms. Bondil’s inflexibility and her denial of several conclusions, however without appealing the report.”

“Given the gravity of the facts reported, our commitment to the employees who convey the Museum’s values ​​on a daily basis was unequivocal,” said Chenelière.

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Bondil denies being responsible for any toxic work environment. She said the allegations of harassment in the report did not concern her.

“Since February 28 we have been working remotely. I have not even seen the employees for a long time. There is nothing I could have done to deteriorate the working climate.”

She added that she thought all the report’s recommendations to better the work environment at the museum were excellent.

The museum’s statement, however, says Bondil’s alleged refusal to accept a settlement proposal “that would have allowed all parties to begin a smooth transition by the end of her contract scheduled for the end of June 2021” convinced the board of directors to end her job as general manager and chief curator.

“It is regrettable that a remarkable association of more than 21 years between the Museum and Ms. Bondil ends in this way,” said de la Chenelière.

With the departure of Bondil and until the appointment of a successor, the executive committee of the board of directors, represented by Chenelière, will oversee the museum.

An international recruitment process will be set up shortly, according to the museum.

–With files from Global News’ Alessia Maratta and Kalina Laframboise

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