Temporary head of Mattress Factory aims to set museum right after scandal
The temporary head of a North Side art museum will be laser-focused on an overarching goal when she starts next month.
Hayley Haldeman, newly tapped interim director of the museum in Pittsburgh’s North Side, will work to prove to employees as well as the public that the Mattress Factory art museum is as safe and supportive a place to work as it is a popular and acclaimed destination to visit, she told the Tribune-Review.
“As a woman, as a board member, as a supporter of the arts and as a lawyer, I have confidence that I have both the institutional knowledge and the skill set to continue to move the museum forward through the transition,” Haldeman said.
Halderman takes over as the museum adheres to a settlement approved by the National Labor Relations Board , implements new policies, reinforces employee protections and identifies its next long-term leader. The changes come in the wake of investigations into allegations that Mattress Factory supervisors retaliated against a group of employees who reported concerns over sexual harassment, assault and rape allegedly involving another employee last year. The employee in question no longer works there.
Michael Olijnyk, the museum’s co-director since 2008 and executive director since late June, remains on paid leave and his future with the Mattress Factory is uncertain.
Employees raised concerns last year, first by reporting allegations against an employee of sexual harassment and assault, and then by filing a federal labor law complaint claiming that supervisors had retaliated against them for doing so.
Retaliation took the forms of verbal abuse, revocation of job duties and threats that by continuing to discuss their concerns, employees could risk losing their jobs, four current and former employees wrote in an NLRB charge filed in September.
“It feels like we’re in limbo,” said Anna-Lena Kempen, 31, an exhibition installer and artist-educator at the Mattress Factory and one of four women who filed the NLRB complaint, said earlier this month. “There’s still a question about who the (permanent) director is going to be, and many of the leadership staff who participated in retaliating against us are still there.”
Haldeman said she is grateful that a group of employees had the courage to come forward. She and fellow longtime Mattress Factory supporters are hopeful that the ensuing year-long cloud of turmoil will dissipate as the museum moves forward.
“We appreciate that the women came forward, and we are working to continue to make the museum an anchor of the area and of the community,” said Haldeman, 31, of Mt. Lebanon, a longtime supporter of the museum and member on its board of directors since 2014.
Haldeman is set to begin work as interim director on Feb. 11. She put in her two weeks at the Downtown lawfirm Jones Day so she can dedicate herself to the full-time, five-days-a-week job overseeing the museum’s leadership transition. Haldeman worked as a litigator specializing in complex commercial disputes nationwide. She also resigned from her voting-member position on the nonprofit board that oversees the Mattress Factory.
Haldeman, who holds other nonprofit leadership positions and does pro-bono work for nonprofits as a side practice, said she is committed to implementing new policies and organizational changes.
“The top priorities will be working with the community and continuing to work with the staff and the board,” said Haldeman. “The museum is committed to being transparent and to taking the actions that we outlined in our terms regarding the settlement with the NLRB.”
The current and former employees who filed the federal labor law “charge against employer” told the Tribune-Review they were pleased by the terms of the settlement and changes that seem to be in the works thus far, such as clearly defining and prohibiting employee retaliation and requiring all employees to undergo mandatory training aligned with federal standards.
They praised the direction of Judith O’Toole, the former Westmoreland Museum of American Art CEO who oversaw the handling of the NLRB case and related efforts as the Mattress Factory’s part-time, interim director from October through this month. O’Toole’s contract ends Thursday.
O’Toole said she observed a boost in morale under her brief tenure at the museum, but she’s noticed recent “slippage” amid the uncertainty of the museum’s long-term leadership plan.
The leadership question also is holding up an $82,000 grant from the taxpayer-backed Allegheny Regional Asset District, among the Mattress Factory’s largest funders. RAD Executive Director Rich Hudic told the Tribune-Review that his legal counsel and board will be seeking more information about the museum’s long-term governance plan before disbursing the money.
Haldeman said she does not intend to apply for the permanent director role. She will assist the board as they conduct “a full search” over the next coming months. The board has not yet set a timeline or deadline for making the permanent hire.
As for whether Olijnyk might return, “the board is still deliberating,” Haldeman said.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.