PROVINCETOWN — When accusations of discrimination and failure to address racially charged incidents at the Fine Arts Work Center became public last month, the organization’s board responded with a letter of apology and a “commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“FAWC as an institution has been complicit with the structural racism that plagues our country,” the board’s letter states. “We deeply apologize for failures to support Fellows, students, and staff (especially BIPOC Fellows, students, and staff) in the past. We are grateful to our Fellows for demanding we do better and for leading us here.”
That response, however, did not reflect the view of every board member, it is now clear. And it is not possible to assess progress on the 10 specific actions that the board promised to take in its letter — ranging from establishing an “anti-racist working group” to “improving the diversity of the board of trustees” — because FAWC is closed and its administrative and board leadership have stopped responding to questions.
Meanwhile, Executive Director Richard MacMillan has continued to insist that he was not involved in decisions at his previous position as a top fundraiser at M.I.T. to accept and conceal donations from financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
MacMillan told the Independent on June 16 that “I was not mentioned” in the university’s formal review of the Epstein affair, conducted by the Boston law firm Goodwin Procter. In a follow-up interview on June 24, MacMillan said that what he had meant was that he was “not mentioned by name” in the report. In fact, MacMillan, whose title was senior director of philanthropic advising, is mentioned at least eight times in the Goodwin Procter investigation. Moreover, internal emails obtained by the Independent from Signe Swenson, who worked with MacMillan at M.I.T., and from the nonprofit organization Whistleblower Aid, show that he was aware of the Epstein donations and approved of their being disguised to conceal the donor’s true identity.
In a June 24 interview with the Independent, Swenson described how MacMillan and Peter Cohen, who was then director of development at the M.I.T. Media Lab, came up with a plan to accept multi-million-dollar gifts from associates of Epstein, including Bill Gates of Microsoft and private-equity magnate Leon Black, who owed Epstein “favors.” Swenson said she repeatedly objected to the Epstein donations because he was a known sex offender, but MacMillan brushed aside her objections.
“I worked under Richard from 2012 to 2014, then worked at the Media Lab until 2016,” Swenson said. “My task was to research and run reports on top-rated prospects — anyone who could give $5 million or above. I would bring those people to Richard. When I went to the Media Lab, I told my boss that there’s no way you can take money from someone without anybody knowing, which is what they wanted to do. Richard and Peter had come up with this way of taking money from Leon Black. He tried to convince me that it was just a small group of people who knew. Because they couldn’t get millions in the door directly from Epstein, they said that Epstein was going to use people who owed him favors. Given what we knew about him, we wondered, ‘What are these favors?’ ”
In the June 24 interview, MacMillan denied any responsibility for the Epstein affair. “We did get money from him and we sent it back,” he said. “That was a decision I was involved in.”
MacMillan last week told the Cape Cod Times, which also obtained the incriminating emails and spoke with Signe Swenson, that Swenson was “mistaken.”
MacMillan at first agreed to a follow-up interview with the Independent this week, but then backed out of the interview on the morning it was to take place.
Asked what it was like to work for MacMillan, Swenson said, “He changed his mind a lot. He would put Epstein on the agenda, then remove him, then put him back on, then remove him. He would constantly get scared at the last second and take it off. Everything was about keeping secrets, protecting information.”
Swenson said she ultimately left M.I.T. because she felt “destroyed” by what she was asked to do there.
Neither FAWC board president Marty Davis nor vice presidents Alison Ferring and Michael Cunningham responded to requests for interviews. The only member of the FAWC board who would agree to speak about the current state of affairs there was Lynne Kortenhaus, who has been managing the organization’s response to the crisis. Kortenhaus said that FAWC had also engaged a Boston crisis management company, Denterlein Associates, and was working with its vice president, Jill Reilly. Reilly did not respond to a phone message seeking comment this week.
When asked to elaborate on the FAWC board’s apology for being “complicit with the structural racism that plagues our country” and for failing to support fellows, students, and staff, Kortenhaus said, “I don’t know that we were complicit. All we wanted to get across is that we’re not bad people here. We’ve been working here for 50 years and this is the first time this has ever come up. That’s all our open letter tried to say. I did not want ‘complicit’ in the letter. I heard from people in the community, ‘Why are you apologizing?’ But it’s a sign of the times. What we were trying to do was contain and mitigate the sensationalism of [the fellows’] call to action and take more of a high road.”
Kortenhaus also said she couldn’t name any specific ways in which FAWC had failed to support the fellows. “Given the times that we are in,” she said, “it would probably be ignorant of us to say we were not complicit. The whole white race is complicit.”