Diversity in U.S. Art Museums Is Rising, But More Leadership Pathways Needed

Diversity in U.S. Art Museums Is Rising, But More Leadership Pathways Needed

A nationwide survey released earlier this week by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that museums have successfully increased diversity among staff — but that uptick isn’t reflected in top leadership positions, where minority populations are still underrepresented.

Carried out with the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Alliance of Museums and the research group Ithaka S+R, the 2018 study tracks the ethnic, racial and gender makeup among more than 30,000 museum staffers working in 332 museums across the U.S. Since the inaugural report was published in 2015,  there’s been a roughly 10 percent bump — from 26 percent to 35 percent — in the number of nonwhite employees working at museums, with most of those gains coming from within education and curatorial departments. The study found that only 12 percent of senior leadership positions are held by people of color, a marginal increase from 2015’s 11 percent.

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“This second demographic survey of art museums offers a snapshot of change that is overdue, slow, but also real and welcome,” said Mariët Westermann, the executive vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, in a statement. “These results show that diverse hiring is entirely possible, and encourage all of us to do more to realize that potential.”

Meanwhile, the gender composition of museum employees hasn’t altered all that much since 2015, the study found, and still hovers around 60 percent female and 40 percent male. While there has been a 5 percent uptick in the number of female leaders at museums, the most senior leadership position is still most likely to be held by a man.

“The data also shows that progress has been uneven,” Westermann said. “While trends in recent hiring are encouraging, certain parts of the museum appear not as quick to change, especially the most senior leadership positions.”

The Mellon Foundation, which is a supporter of ALL ARTS, launched the survey in 2015 in an attempt to track inclusivity efforts within U.S. museums. Established in 1969, the foundation works primarily within higher education, museums and art institutions and the performing arts. The 2015 survey was the first of its kind within the museum sector, and will likely be replicated again in the future to keep track of industry trends.

When asked why it was important to crunch the numbers, Westermann said the answer was simple: “What gets measured gets addressed.”

Read the full survey here.

Top Image: Courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago; Ed Bierman for Creative Commons