Case Studies in Museum Diversity
Case Studies in Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity among AAMD Member Art Museums
Three years ago, Ithaka S+R, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) set out to quantify with demographic data an issue that has been of increasing concern within and beyond the arts community: the lack of representative diversity in professional museum roles. Our analysis found there were structural barriers to entry in these positions for people of color.
Many museum leaders expressed interest in taking action to address these barriers to professional advancement for members of historically underrepresented communities, but not all were equally prepared to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and outreach more broadly. So, we again partnered (this time with AAMD) to examine how some art museums have been successful in these areas, hoping that this would allow others to learn from peers and adopt practices that would reduce their own structural barriers not only with respect to staffing but towards achieving equity more broadly. These case studies in museum diversity, equity, and inclusion are now being published.
This case studies series, to be published between January – June 2018, sets out to understand and share strategies in these areas that have worked at an array of art museums. What practices are effective in making the American art museum more inclusive? By what measures? How have these museums been successful in diversifying their professional staff? What complexities or change management challenges have they had to face along the way?
To select the case studies, we identified 20 museums where underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities have a relatively substantial presence as educators, curators, conservators, and in museum leadership. In selecting the museums to profile, we gauged the interest of the 20 museums in participating, asking questions about their history with diversity. In shaping the final list of participants, we also sought to ensure some amount of breadth in terms of location, museum size, and museum type. There was such strong interest in participating that we had a hard time making the choice of which eight ultimately to include.
The final group includes the following museums:
- The Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh)
- Brooklyn Museum
- Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (case study forthcoming)
- Detroit Institute of Arts (case study forthcoming)
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
- Spelman College Museum (Atlanta)
- Studio Museum in Harlem
We then conducted site visits to each of the eight participating museums, interviewing between ten and fifteen staff members across departments and levels of seniority, including the director. In some cases, we also interviewed board members, artists, and external partners. We observed meetings, attended public events, and conducted outside research.
In the case studies that resulted from this effort, we have endeavored to maintain an inclusive approach when reporting findings. For this reason, we sought the perspectives of individual employees across various levels of seniority in the museum. When relevant we have addressed issues of geography, history, and architecture to elucidate the museum’s role and local environment. In this way the museum emerges as a collection of people—staff, artists, donors, public. This research framework positions the institution as a series of relationships between these various constituencies.
We hope that by providing insight into the operations, strategies, and climates of these museums, the case studies will help leaders in the field approach inclusion, diversity, and equity issues with fresh perspectives. As a final capstone to this project, in Spring 2018 we will publish a synthesis of what can be learned reading across these eight institutional case studies.
Current and previous outputs of interest to art museums from these partnerships:
- Roger Schonfeld and Mariët Westermann, with Liam Sweeney, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, July 28, 2015.
- Roger Schonfeld and Liam Sweeney, An Engine for Diversity: Studio Museum in Harlem, January 23, 2018.
- Roger Schonfeld and Liam Sweeney, “I Recommend Dancing”: Brooklyn Museum’s History of Inclusion and Moment of Transition, January 23, 2018.
- Liam Sweeney, Pipelines and Inroads: The Andy Warhol Museum, January 23, 2018.
- Liam Sweeney, Reflecting Los Angeles, Decentralized and Global: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, January 23, 2018.
- Liam Sweeney with Katherine Daniel, At Fifty, Remodeling for Equity: MCA Chicago, June 7, 2018
- Liam Sweeney, Small but Mighty: Spelman College Museum, June 7, 2018.
- Liam Sweeney, “Forthcoming Case Studies of Eight Art Museums,” April 12, 2017.
- Roger Schonfeld and Liam Sweeney, “Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Art Museums: Learning from the Community,” February 22, 2017.
- Roger Schonfeld, “Diversity in American Art Museums,” July 29, 2015.
- Robin Pogrebin, “With New Urgency, Museums Aim to Cultivate Curators of Color,” New York Times, August 8, 2018.
- Liam Sweeney, “How Do We Fix the Museum Diversity Problem?,” New York Observer, February 1, 2018.
- Celeste Headlee and Sean Powers, “High Museum Of Art Triples Non-White Visitors,” with Rand Suffolk, director of the High Museum, and Mariët Westermann, EVP of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, GBP News, January 8, 2018.
- Andrea Shea, “Museum Visitors, And Employees, Are Mostly White. The MFA Is Trying To Change That,” WBUR, June 6, 2017.
- Ruth McCambridge, “Museums So White: Survey Reveals Deep Lack of Diversity,” Nonprofit Quarterly, May 9, 2017
- Brian Boucher, “Mellon Foundation Study Reveals Uncomfortable Lack of Diversity in American Museums,” artnet news, August 4, 2015.
- David Ng, “Women dominate art museum staffs, but minorities are much smaller part, study says,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2015.
- Claire Voon, “The Diversity Problem at American Museums Gets a Report,” Hyperallergic, August 3, 2015
Questions or comments about the case studies? Use this form to contact us.