Boards of New York City Museum Lack Diversity

Boards of New York City Museum Lack Diversity

Although they operate in a sprawling megalopolis that prides itself on its racial and ethnic diversity, many of New York City's arts and cultural organizations have boards that are predominantly white, the New York Times reports.

According to data collected by the Times, the percentage of people of color among board members at most institutions remains strikingly low, while more than a few employ overwhelmingly white staffs, even as they are ramping up efforts to attract a broader cross-section of visitors. There are execeptions, of course: at the Studio Museum in Harlem, 82 percent of board members and 80 percent of staff are people of color, compared with 24 percent and 66 percent of at the Brooklyn Museum, 25 percent and 43 percent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 10 percent and 35 percent at the American Museum of Natural History, and 10 percent and 20 percent at New York City Ballet.

The Times' findings reflect those of a survey of arts and cultural organizations conducted in 2016 by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, which found, among other things, that 67 percent of New York City residents self-identify as persons of color, compared with 38 percent of employees at the institutions surveyed. Indeed, the findings helped inform the city's new "cultural plan," which links future funding from the department to staff and board diversity, and asks the thirty-three organizations currently leasing or located on city-owned property — organizations that together receive  63 percent of the $188.1 million in municipal financing for the arts and culture — to start submitting diversity, inclusion, and equity plans to the city in 2018.

"To fulfill your mission you've got to be credible, and in order to be credible, the community needs to see themselves represented among you," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, which funded the department's study. That won't change, however, if arts and cultural institutions in the city don't do a better job of looking beyond the usual candidate pools. "[T]rustees are limited by their own networks," added Walker. "The places they look are the places they've always looked and those places generally have very few people of color."

Meanwhile, organizations with a strong track record of diversity face a different challenge, the Times reports: larger institutions poaching their talent. Both the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Brooklyn Museum, for instance, have lost curators of color to other institutions in recent years.

Whether that's a problem depends on whom you ask. Studio Museum director Thelma Golden told the Times that part of the organization's mission was to develop the expertise of staff members focused on the work of African-American artists so they can take that knowledge to other museums. "We have actively trained curators and enthusiastically sent them out into the world," said Golden. "When I have a curator, I'm thinking that from the beginning."

Robin Pogrebin. "It's a Diverse City, but Most Big Museum Boards Are Strikingly White." New York Times 08/22/2017.