Diversity, nebulous though it is, has long been something museums have tried to maximize among their visitors, but a new initiative being launched by New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) aims to measure the diversity of staff and board members at the city’s cultural institutions. Announced on Monday, the program will initially take the form of surveys, research reports, and other tallies of the makeups of leadership at the city’s arts organizations. The hope is that the resulting data will be able to inform future practices at museums and other nonprofits.
“For the long-term vitality and relevancy of cultural institutions, it makes sense to have the staffs reflect that,” Tom Finkelpearl, the commissioner of the DCA, told the Wall Street Journal. In a statement, he added: “This is the first step in an effort to more fully understand how we can promote an arts community that reflects the incredible diversity of our city.”
According to the 2010 US Census, white, non-Hispanic people make up almost 64% of the country’s population, and they account for just 35% of the population of New York City. But a study published the same year by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) found that 80% of staff at US museums were non-Hispanic whites. On the subject of diversity in the makeup of museum staff, the AAM study concluded:
But 80 percent of museum studies students are white and 80 percent are female — we can’t diversify by competing for the few diverse members of the pool of people already committed to museum careers through this pipeline. We need to tackle this problem at all stages — increase awareness of museum careers, recruit more diverse students into museum studies programs and look outside traditional training programs for bright, interested people and then invest in their continued education.
The new DCA initiative will formally launch with a panel discussion on January 28 at the Midtown headquarters of the Ford Foundation. Participants will include Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman (who is also the chairman of the DCA’s Cultural Institutions Group) and Julian Zugazagoitia, the director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (and former director of El Museo del Barrio).