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Survey: Museums Across America Making ‘Slow’ Progress Toward Becoming More Diverse

A graph from Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018.

In partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors, the American Alliance of Museums, and the research organization Ithaka S+R, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has revealed the findings from its second comprehensive Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, which was conducted in 2018. The study focuses on the make-up of museum staffs across the U.S., and it found that institutions have made some progress toward becoming more diverse.

The percentage of women working at museums rose from 59 to 61 percent between 2015 and 2018, and the percentage of people of color on museum staffs increased from 24 to 28 percent in that time period. The percentage of African-American curators has also gone up—from two percent to four percent.

Women continued to make significant leaps at museums, the survey said. The study shows that the number of women in positions of power at art museums increased from 57 percent in 2015 to 62 percent in 2018.

Just 12 percent of these leadership roles, however, were held by people of color in 2018, though this is still a one-percent gain from 2015. Men of color occupy four percent of leadership positions, while 56 percent of these jobs are held by white women.

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

Since its 2015 survey, which found that 76 percent of staff at a sample group of AAMD museums were white, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has implemented several initiatives—including an expansion of the Mellon Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship and a nationwide program focused on the curatorship and conservation of Native American collections. The foundation said it plans to carry out additional diversity surveys of museum staffs in the future.

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