Some Headway in Efforts to Diversify the Staffs of American Art Museums

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in collaboration with the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Alliance of Museums, and Ithaka S+R, has analyzed the ethnic and gender diversity of the staff of art museums across the country. The survey was created to measure the change in museum staff diversity from a similar baseline survey in 2015.

The results found that the percentage of African-American curators across the country doubled from 2 percent in 2015 to 4 percent in 2018. Additionally, in 2018, 20 percent of all museum intellectual leadership positions were held by people of color.

“This second demographic survey of art museums offers a snapshot of change that is overdue, slow, but also real and welcome,” said Mariët Westermann, executive vice president of the Foundation. “These results show that diverse hiring is entirely possible and needed, and encourage all of us to do more to realize that potential. The Mellon Foundation looks forward to continuing to work with our many partners across the field on the great task of making American art museums representative and inclusive of the rich diversity of our country.”

The Foundation’s 2015 survey’s results were troubling. They found that 76 percent of staff at American museums were White. Additionally, they found that the positions that were held by people of color tended to be in facilities, security, and human resources. These positions usually lack a clear path to advancement to the most influential positions.

In response to these results, the Foundation invested several initiatives to increase diversity within American art museum staffs. These include conducting diversity case studies at eight museums, expanding the Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship program, and supporting 30 paid pre-professional conservation opportunities annually for diverse students.

“We are profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting this and a series of studies exploring diversity in art museum staffing,” said Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors. “It is gratifying to see that some small changes have taken place over the previous three years. Looking forward, these studies are valuable resources to continue pursuing the changes that will be necessary if U.S. art museums are to reflect, and address, the increasing diversity of the American people.”

The Mellon Foundation plans to conduct similar surveys periodically to assess progress in diversifying the staff of  art museum staffs.

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