Racial, Ethnic Diversity Limited in Art Museum Staffs, Survey Finds

While art museums in the United States have made significant progress in achieving gender equality, the racial and ethnic profile of their staffs is much less diverse, a survey by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation finds.

Conducted in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey (13 pages), the first comprehensive survey to assess the diversity of art museum staffs across the U.S., found that women account for 60 percent of staff at the museums surveyed, with higher percentages in the kinds of curatorial, conservation, and educational positions that can be a pipeline to leadership positions. At the same time, the survey found that no such leadership pipeline exists for historically underrepresented minorities. Indeed, although more than a quarter (28 percent) of staff at the museums surveyed are from minority backgrounds, the majority of those individuals are in security, facilities, finance, or human resources, while among museum curators, conservators, educators, and leaders 84 percent are white, 6 percent are Asian, 4 percent are African American, 3 percent are Latina/o, and 3 percent have a mixed race background.

The survey also found that younger staff are more racially and ethnically diverse, with the percentage of non-white employees rising from 20 percent among those born in the 1930s to 30 percent among those born in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the share of people of color in curatorial, conservation, educational, and leadership positions, roughly 27.5 percent, is more or less the same for staff born in the 1960s through the 1990s.

"To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve," said Elizabeth Merritt, director of AAM's Center for the Future of Museums. "This will require challenging a broad range of assumptions about how museums train, recruit, and manage the staff responsible for collections, interpretation, education, and leadership of our institutions. And it will require taking a hard, uncomfortable look at the conscious and unconscious influences that have shaped our institutional culture and created the current imbalance."

"Mellon Foundation Releases the First Comprehensive Survey of Diversity in American Art Museums." Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Press Release 07/29/2015. "The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey." Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Report 07/28/2015.