Three major foundations and one philanthropic organization—the Alice L. Walton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and Pilot House Philanthropy—have banded together to create a new initiative that will aim to diversify leadership positions at several art museums across the country.
With a commitment of $11 million over the next five years, the Leadership in Art Museums (LAM) initiative will aim to increase racial equity in leadership positions across museum departments, ranging from curatorial and conservation to education and community engagement.
For nearly a decade, the Mellon Foundation has been tracking the diversity of staff at major art museums through its Art Museum Staff Demographic Surveys, published in 2015, 2018, and 2022. The most recent report found that though the percentage of people of color among all staff at the over 300 museums that were surveyed had grown from 27 percent in 2015 to 36 percent in 2022, the diversity among leadership positions had risen to only 27 percent in 2022 from 18 percent in 2015.
“If we want the arts in this country to stay vibrant, moving, and transformational, it’s imperative that these institutions bring in more diverse perspectives and lived experiences,” For Foundation president Darren Walker said in a statement. “Leadership in Arts Museum’s vision is to grow and invest in diverse leadership at U.S. art museums to ensure their excellence and relevance in the future.”
Ultimately, LAM has selected 19 museums to be part of the initiative, which will create or sustain diverse leadership positions at their institutions with the promise to make these permanent after the five-year funding cycle. As part of the hiring process, the instituions have also “pledge[d] to develop a diverse pool of applicants in a manner that is inclusive of communities of color, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities,” according to a release.
The institutions range from major ones like the Museum of Contemporary in Los Angeles, MASS MoCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston to smaller ones likes the Riverside Art Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Newark Museum of Art, and the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Our new Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole curator position, named in honor of the Jacksonville native and internationally regarded educator, scholar, and cultural leader, will help us realize Ninah Cummer’s vision that the museum be a center of beauty for all,” Cummer Museum director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee said in a statement. “With the LAM support, we are on course to expand our audiences and invite more visitors to explore and engage with our collections, gardens, and programs.”
Special attention has also been paid to geographical diversity with museums like the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, and the State University Art Museum in Phoenix.
“Ultimately, the future of museums depends on their ability to stay relevant and serve their communities,” philanthropist and collector Alice Walton said in a statement.“The LAM museums represent a variety of regions across the U.S., and help ensure that we’re increasing access to museum roles in a way that’s inclusive of communities of color, no matter where the art institution is based.”
The full list of LAM-funded museums follows below.
State University Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida
The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan
MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi
Museum of the City of New York, New York, New York
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Illinois
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
The Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts
Perez Art Museum Miami, Florida
Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon
Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, California
Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri
Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle, Washington