Nancy Yao announced in a statement that she will not be directing the new American Women’s History Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, “due to family issues that require his attention”. In fact, Nancy Yao left her position as director due to controversies in her previous position.
Last March, the Smithsonian announced that former Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) director Nancy Yao would lead the design and construction of the new Museum of American Women’s History. But shortly after his appointment, a Washington Post investigation, published in April, revealed the existence of three lawsuits for unfair dismissal, brought by former employees of MOCA, claiming to have been dismissed for having denounced cases of sexual harassment. According to the investigation, Nancy Yao claimed to have carried out the layoffs due to budgetary problems. But the documents reveal that as director, Nancy Yao would have “tolerated and approved of the persistent sexual harassment of two male employees”.
In response to the Post’s allegations, the Smithsonian brought in an outside firm to look into the charges, delaying Nancy Yao’s start date, originally scheduled for June.
The announcement of Nancy Yao’s appointment as head of the Museum of American Women’s History also drew strong reactions from the Chinatown community, due to her controversial stewardship of MOCA. The former director is accused of having accepted funding from the administration of the city’s former mayor, Bill de Blasio, in exchange for his support for the expansion of the prison located in the Chinatown district. Since mid-2020, protesters from the Chinatown Art Brigade and Youth Against Displacement (YAD) have staged protests outside MOCA to protest Nancy Yao’s decision “to sell the community” and against his ties to MOCA board chairman and luxury real estate developer Jonathan Chu, who allegedly played a role in the closure of the landmark restaurant, Jing Fong. In 2021, around 20 members of the artist collective, Godzilla, removed their works from MOCA, protesting against the support the museum seemed to give to the project of “skyscraper prison” and demanding the resignation of Nancy Yao.
Time to find a new director – “within about six months”the institution hopes, Melanie Adams, director of the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum, is acting director.
The Museum of American Women’s History is one of two new museums at the Smithsonian Institution. Jorge Zamanillo, the former director of the Miami History Museum, was chosen to be the founding director of the second museum: the National Museum of Latin American History.