Leader of Americans for the Arts Retires After Workplace Complaints

Robert L. Lynch, the longtime president and chief executive of the Washington-based advocacy organization Americans for the Arts who had been on paid leave since December amid workplace complaints, has agreed to retire effective immediately, the organization’s board announced Thursday.

“Bob has dedicated his life to the arts, in particular increasing access to the arts for everyone,” the board’s statement said, “and we know he will continue to be a passionate advocate for many years to come.”

The board did not say whether Mr. Lynch had received a severance package.

Mr. Lynch, 71, had voluntarily stepped aside late last year while investigations into the organization’s equity and diversity practices and workplace management were ongoing. Those investigations have now concluded, the board’s statement said, though it did not disclose the findings.

He will be succeeded by Nolen Bivens, a retired Army brigadier general and former board member who had led the organization since December. Mr. Bivens helped found the National Initiative for Arts & Health Across the Military, which provides access to creative arts therapies at military clinical sites across the country.

Before he went on leave on Dec. 16, Mr. Lynch had led AFTA for more than three decades. He served on the Biden-Harris transition team for the arts and humanities and was a prominent advocate for resources for nonprofit organizations. His annual compensation package exceeded $900,000, according to the organization’s tax filings.

Mr. Lynch was criticized by a number of current and former AFTA employees and advisory council members late last year, who called out the organization for falling short with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion. Several complainants also said they had been sexually harassed while they worked at AFTA, and said the organization had a management culture rooted in intimidation.

Critics had called for Mr. Lynch to resign from the organization, because, they said, he had long been unresponsive to the issues they raised. As calls grew for AFTA to diversify its leadership and better serve creative communities and artists of color, Mr. Lynch publicly defended the group’s actions, and vowed to do better.

AFTA said in December that it would be the subject of two independent investigations: one related to the work environment, and one focused on AFTA’s policies and procedures surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. Those have now concluded, though the board did not say when or if it plans to release the findings.

Caitlin Strokosch, the president and chief executive of the National Performance Network, a group of artists and organizations that campaign for racial and cultural justice, said in an email on Thursday that while Mr. Lynch’s resignation had been a positive step, the “toxic practices of supremacy culture” remain within the organization he built. She criticized AFTA for declining to share the findings of the investigations.

“Americans for the Arts had an opportunity for truth-telling,” she said, “and has instead chosen a path that seeks to sweep their practices under the rug, to reject transparency, and to bank on the status quo to keep them in power.”

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