Kaywin Feldman, who last year became the first woman to lead the National Gallery of Art, said in an interview Friday that she agrees with some changes called for in an online petition seeking racial justice and increased diversity at the museum. But she rejects the petition’s assertion that white supremacy is at the core of the museum’s mission.

“The National Gallery of Art serves the nation by welcoming all people to explore and experience art, creativity and our shared humanity,” Feldman said. “One of the reasons museums matter is they are all about people. The works of art that we have here at the gallery represent the lived experience, the highs, the lows, the joys, the sorrow, war, pain, agony. It’s all there.”

Feldman acknowledged the “tension” that exists in representing the diversity of the United States in a museum that is known for its European-based art collection.

“But I think it’s healthy and it’s part of these great discussions we are having,” she said. “I’m optimistic and confident that we will grow and progress.”

Written by two former employees and one current staff member and signed by almost 70 others, the petition alleges sexual and racial harassment at the federally funded institution and calls for broad changes to make it a more diverse, equitable and transparent institution.

The 2,285-word petition was written in response to the national Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. Museum employees in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Akron, Ohio, have mounted campaigns against what they claim is systemic racism, sexism and unfair treatment of LGBTQ and BIPOC (the acronym for black, indigenous and people of color) employees in their field. Last week a letter from former employees of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art alleged a culture of racism that they say stretched back a decade.

Feldman said the national movement toward racial justice has added urgency to the diversity and inclusion work that she has already started.

“It has brought forward greater awareness of systemic racism across America, including in museums,” she said. “Petition or no petition, we’ve been dedicated to this work. I’ve set it out from the day I arrived. It is consistent with some of the hopes and dreams I’ve heard from the staff. We just want to do the work.”

Feldman said a job posting for a curator of African American and African diasporic art is imminent, as is the hiring of a manager of diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion. Staff training, she said, will be expanded to include mandatory courses on anti-racism, recognition of conscious and unconscious bias, and increasing multicultural proficiency.

The petition repeatedly emphasizes the racial disparity among the staff, which is typical of many museums, and calls for changes in recruitment and hiring practices.

Feldman agrees.

“We will be looking at how we do that,” she said. “It’s harder with federal jobs, because of the federal system. It makes it challenging, but that’s not an excuse.”

As of April, the 1,000-member staff was about 54 percent white and 46 percent people of color. The curatorial and conservation staff was 96 percent white, the research department 88 percent white, the director’s office 100 percent white. In contrast, 73 percent of the employees in the department that includes security, maintenance and retail were people of color.

Earlier this month, the gallery announced the hiring of Michael Lapthorn as its chief of design, one of the most senior positions. Lapthorn is the exhibition designer at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the museum Feldman led before taking over at the National Gallery. Asked whether filling a rare senior position with a white man and former colleague contradicted her commitment to staff diversity, Feldman was unusually terse.

“We did a full search, had applicants from across the country, interviewed several and picked the best,” she said.

She declined to respond to the petition’s call for an independent investigation into racial and sexual harassment, saying she is not accountable to anonymous former employees.

But after the petition surfaced, she linked to it in a letter to staff members, outlined the steps the museum is taking in the area of diversity and inclusion, and emphasized her interest in hearing from them.

“It’s been really great. [There have been] thoughtful, helpful ideas,” she said, “and radio silence about the petition.”