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White Non-Hispanics and Under-Represented Minorities, By Museum (all screenshots via Mellon Foundation)

White Non-Hispanics and Under-Represented Minorities, By Museum (all screenshots via Mellon Foundation)

Last year, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) examined the gender gap in art museum directorships, observing that women hold less than half of those positions and those that do are paid significantly less than male directors. A new report released by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation takes a broader look at staff diversity in American art museums; while the data suggests that more women are poised to take on future leadership positions, that is unlikely to be the case for minorities, with trends indicating that such job cohorts will not witness notable increases in diversity soon.

The study draws its conclusions from staff demographic surveys completed in February and March by 77% of AAMD’s 235 museums and 15% of American Alliance of Museums‘ (AAM) 643 member institutions. It also conducted HR surveys focused on museum diversity programs — with similar response rates — and director surveys on board diversity (not considered due to low levels of response). The data received reveals that women make up 60% of museum staff while non-Hispanic whites make up 72% of specifically AAMD members’ staff (in comparison, the US population is 62% non-Hispanic white; the study also notes that some museums that are 100% white are located in areas that may have relatively low minority residents). The study then breaks down these numbers by job category and decade of birth to reveal that the future holds rather different outlooks for gender than race/ethnicity when considering diversity of leadership positions.

White Non-Hispanics and Under-Represented Minorities, By Job Category

In terms of the gender makeup of museum job categories, many roles tend to be gender-specific: men dominate jobs such as art handling, IT work, and security; women, meanwhile, are increasingly taking on positions in curatorial, conservation, and educational fields — which makes them strong candidates for future leadership roles, from museum directors to chief curators. (Notably, the Brooklyn Museum currently boasts an all-female leadership team.) About 70% of curators from the surveyed cohort, for example, are women, while education and membership sectors have around a 80% female majority. Furthermore, this dominance is likely to continue: looking at the age demographic within the curators, conservators, and educators, the percent of males born in the 1930s through the 1990s has consistently hovered around 35–40%.

These pipelines for managing positions, however, are not as established when one looks at the figures for the museum roles held by minorities. Just as certain jobs were heavily weighted to one gender, some are heavily specific to non-Hispanic whites. Low-level jobs like security and facility-related ones are pretty evenly split, but curators, conservators, and those working in publication and registrar are over 80% non-Hispanic white. Digging into the demographics of near-top-tier positions, non-Hispanic whites constitute a whopping 84% while Asians represent 6%, Blacks 4%, and Hispanics 3%. As Vice President of the Foundation Mariët Westermann notes in an introduction, “With the exception of the Asian demographic category, which makes up 5% of the United States population today, these proportions do not come close to representing the diversity of the American population.”

Younger cohorts are more ethnically diverse, which suggests an increase in diversity of overall museum hires: minorities represent about 20% of those born in the 1930s, a figure that grows to just over 30% for those born in the ’90s. However, zooming in on the ethnic makeup of more advanced positions reveals that such career cohorts will likely not witness a notable increase in diversity in the coming years. From the 1940s through the 1990s, the percent of minorities working in curatorial, conservation, and education departments has remained unchanged around 27.5%. This lack of “youth bulge,” as the study puts it, from “historically underrepresented minorities,” is crippling to any museum aiming to diversify its staff.

Westermann admits that some of these results are “discouraging,” but they are helpful in providing “baseline data against which future surveys can be measured, and, one hopes, progress tracked.” One step that may be taken to foster progress in the right direction is the creation of more educational programs that prep minorities for careers in cultural institutions around the nation. The Mellon Foundation itself recently launched a curatorial fellowship program connecting college students from marginalized backgrounds with curators at five major US museums; in January, New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs announced its own initiatives to measure and promote diversity across the city’s cultural institutions. Last month, the department received $150,000 from a number of private foundations to propel those efforts.

As Westermann wrote, “The case is clear and urgent, and constructive responses to it will be critical to the continued vitality of art museums as public resources for a democratic society.”

Race and Ethnicity (Curators, Conservators, Educators and Leadership Only)

White Non-Hispanics and Under-Represented Minorities, By Decade of Birth

White Non-Hispanics and Under-Represented Minorities, By Decade Born (Curators, Conservators, Educators and Leadership Only)

Gender, by Museum

Gender, by Job Category

Gender, by Decade Born

Gender, By Decade Born (Curators, Conservators, Educators and Leadership Only)

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

35 replies on “The Diversity Problem at American Museums Gets a Report”

  1. The Brooklyn Museum has an unusually diverse staff (race, gender, ethnicity) at the curatorial/management/leadership levels compared to other comprehensive museums. And this the product of a lot of hard work and sincere commitment to diversity by Arnold Lehman. But it does not have an all-female leadership team, unless Deputy Director Paul Bessaire is a woman and I somehow missed this.

  2. Thanks for the info…Maybe we can get some Hyperallergic readers to send an Open Letter to AAMD Museums across AmerIKKKa to hire and promote more black people? you think?

  3. Shouldn’t the headline read “The Diversity Problem at American Art Museums Gets a Report” since this report is explicitly ONLY about art museums? According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ “Museums Count” survey last year, art museums account for less than 5% of US Museums. I am not certain what the picture would look like if you consider ALL museums, probably not a lot better, but it would certainly be more complex. Art museums do tend to be the richest museums in the US and its employees tend to come from much wealthier families, so the data will certainly be skewed by that issue. But the bottom line is you cannot make any generalizations about ALL 35,000 museums in the US based upon a survey of only one kind of museum that represents less than 5% of the total. Especially since it was done through institutional membership in expensive professional organizations and therefore skews toward your larger and richer art museums and miss things like your small campus gallery.

    Museum does not equal art museum.

    1. True: I am a member of the American Alliance of Museums. [This author in particular very often, maybe half the time, does slight-of-hand polemical moves in her reporting. I’ve stopped bothering to point them out in hopes editors will start holding her accountable.]

      1. writers don’t always write their own headlines, which are condensed to save space. thank you for reading.

        1. True, nor the names of their books. But I am referring to the actual contents of the articles. I did point to a headline of one of your articles a while back, but it was shorthand for the issue I was bringing up about the article itself – sentences – specifically the mischaracterization of a politician in order to put them in a bad light. This kind of thing happens over and over and it’s inexcusable, but I don’t want to be a troll on your writing. So I try not to comment so much.

          1. I don’t think I mischaracterized said politician in any sentences since that article was entirely objective, and I doubt that half my articles on this website make slight of hand polemical moves. but I would welcome an email compiling all the supposed inexcusable issues you have found. claire@hyperallergic.com

          2. You appear to define “diversity” to mean: Existing within an entity in equal proportion to the demographics of society.

            There is a presupposition here from you, included in the article, that if 60% of the workforce in a museum are women that they should necessarily comprise 60% of the leadership positions.

            And if only 20% of the workforce were women, you’d start wondering why women didn’t want to go into that profession. No one fails to account for choice, psychology, or human behavior when dealing with presuppositions like these. It just “seems right” that if 20% of the population is hispanic, then 20% of the leaders of the company should be hispanic, or else we haven’t achieved your definition of “diversity” yet.

            You undermine this presupposition several times, but here’s one example with your own words.

            “In terms of the gender makeup of museum job categories, many roles tend to be gender-specific: men dominate jobs such as art handling, IT work, and security; women, meanwhile, are increasingly taking on positions in curatorial, conservation, and educational fields — which makes them strong candidates for future leadership roles, from museum directors to chief curators.”

            It’s almost like men and women, on average, choose to do different things when given a choice about what they want to do. Almost as though, on average, there are certain predilections, specialties, or preferences characteristic (again, on average) to the sexes.

            Might that not also include a certain gender-disposition towards seeking leadership roles?

            Might not hispanics, or blacks, or asians, comprise a majority within another field in excess of their representation within society? Might we not also discover that, due to a vast array of economic, political, cultural, and personal reasons, these discrepancies are in fact entirely explainable and natural?

            In other words, not simply reducible to the implied answer that certain people are intentionally being held down; or that there is any sort of conspiracy to do so; or that this perceived discrepancy is in any way a problem that we need to solve.

            Do you have some examples of people of a minority background out there, struggling to get into leadership positions, who keep getting turned away because of their skin color? That would be some positive evidence for your presuppositions and assertions that could make a case for why I should even care about this.

            You cite that women are paid less than males for the same work, but neglect to mention that for the other 75% of art museums, women are paid, on average $1.02 what their males are paid for the same work. This claim of them making less is weighted by the remaining 25%, the biggest art museums, who according to the study are paying women directors 79 cents on the dollar for every dollar paid to a man.

            So maybe that’s a problem. Or maybe it’s like your article says…that women are going more into fields within art museums that lead towards a directorship. So maybe this is the old, entrenched dinosaurs at the most prestigious art museums, which have been historically male dominated from a time when, say, more men than women went into the educational or curatorial fields. So maybe (and this information is not provided, so I’m speculating) the entrenched leadership gets paid more because of seniority, and the younger crop of women directors has not been around long enough to start taking these positions, giving themselves a boost over the salaries of the historically male art museum luminaries.

            And this could be weighted further if you consider that a single male art director, at the largest art museum in the country, could be making ten million dollars a year, or something, vastly skewing things towards the male column. I don’t know what methodology they used, but I’m not actually asserting that this is true. This is just a possible explanation, that makes your presupposition and evident bias so jarring when you assume conditions that aren’t provided by the source material.

            That’s my point. There could be a very good explanation for this discrepancy, a thing that time will solve as more women at these larger art museums graduate into leadership positions naturally as the entrenched and older male leadership retires.

            But you don’t provide that context or explanation, and you fail to cite that at 75% of art museums, women are roughly equal in salary to what men are paid (and actually paid 2 cents more, on average).

    2. Thanks for that comment, Adolphus. You’re right. We assumed because of the —AAMD — people would understand that. We are always trying to cut down words in our headlines and that may have been one too many.

  4. hi~ could someone please explain/clarify/elaborate on the “3% White (Hispanic)” on the “Race and Ethnicity (Curators, Conservators, Educators and Leadership Only)” chart?

    So, does that mean that there are Hispanics that identify themselves as yt? (see: Spanish people, Latinamerican people of European heritage/ancestry) BUT…!

    what about the percentage of Latinos that do not identify “racially” with other races? what about the Hispanics that are solely “ethnically” Latino? are there any actual Latino people that do not identify themselves as yt/caucasian? are they non-existent? Not all Latinos come from a European/yt background, so where are they in the museums!?!

    1. Can you explain what “yt” means? If it is something other than a racist epithet – “whitey” – let me know.

        1. OK, because if one pronounces the letters it comes out to “whitey” and sure sounds racist or could be interpreted that way.

    2. Yes, that’s part of the problem with US demographics. White is a catch all term to denote the artificial category of race, so it is always changing and convoluted (most Arabs, Swedes, Iranians, Basques, Russians are all considered white according to the US).

      Hispanic, on the other hand, is an ethnicity, like Italian, Indian, Kurdish, etc., and is “real” as they say, because it denotes what a person identifies as, not what others identify them as. So there are Hispanics, according to the US census, who can be ANY race. The reality is there are probably very very few Hispanics that the US census would not identify as “white” in that category you cited.

      Part of the problem arises from the issue that people in the US often confuse race and ethnicity, which is purposefully blurred because the ideology of white supremacy is constantly gobbling up cultural groups to ensure their dominance in this culture (for instance, in the early 19th c Irish weren’t considered white but later were, same for many other groups).

      Hope that helps clarify things.

          1. Well, “Black Messiah” is permitted to write the most absurdly racist commentary here that I’ve ever read anywhere, so even if “yt” was a racist epithet (why shorten “white” when you’re already writing “European?), occupyfannypack’s comment wouldn’t fairly be deleted as being too racist, even if “yt” was offensive to your white readers.

            I **really** like reading Hyperallergic, but when it is so frequently a haven for slandering white people, it’s hard for white readers like me take seriously arguments, or “theses” rather, that require us to play the role of a movie villain or stand-in bogeyman. I’ve been in the art world for 20 years. When a 25 year old arts writer wants to talk about “white patriarchy” he or she better know that not everyone reading is just as new to the art world (meaning, inexperienced) as they are. Being wrong is OK. Being racist and wrong is not OK. It’s OK to rid Hyperallergic of racism.

            (Sorry if this sounds like a defensive rant, but it really isn’t. I once had a girl tell me she’d like to post in the comments here, about the politics, but finds the environment too intimidating. I knew what she meant, so I suggested using a fake name. Doesn’t seem like she ever did.)

          2. I try the best to moderate comments, and I have talked to Black Messiah when I’ve caught comments. If I miss things, I’d appreciate you pointing them out. My full time job isn’t moderating comments so things fall through. Right now I’m trudging through one post with massively long comments and it is taking forever.

          3. Yeah, I understand. There are no busier people than editors, so it’s not realistic to expect full-time comment management. But I feel like I have to walk on rhetorical eggshells when commenting against the typical “straight white men are the problem” articles and the comment section applause. It’s exciting to see young people voicing what they are passionate about, but if those claims can’t be subject to open critique, no one is any better off or smarter, much less better aligned to make substantive changes where they can readily be made. It’d be good to see some critique of these “white patriarchy” articles, but no one is going to write under their real name.

            It’s actually really easy, in lots of quarters, to make life horrible for “straight white men” in the art world. Countless stories. I once joked to a juror of a several-month artist residency to not let any “white male abstract painters” into the program, and she did just that. I meant it as a joke, but yeah, those “white men painter” applications got thrown into the waste basket. There wasn’t a white man on the panel, so I guess it made the de facto eliminating that much easier. But anyway, I’m sorry to all those men who applied to that residency this year. My joke was way too dry! And yes, you can be fucked as easy as that.

          4. “”Well, “Black Messiah” is permitted to write the most absurdly racist commentary here that I’ve ever read anywhere,””

            OH Horsefeathers !!

            People like you are not used to hearing black peoples point of view because YT controlled the media in AmeriKKKa for the past 400 years..with the advent of social media and the black twitterverse YT is seeing and hearing black voices for the first time in history… and you dont like what u are hearing .. Previously we ONLY heard Massa white voices and euro-centric propaganda…its a new world homie.. you will get used to it!!

          5. I know black people in the media and have worked for them. Have you? I know you haven’t because you can’t write a grammatically coherent sentence to save your life. In any case, it was fun, brutha. See you another day.

          6. I am busy working so I just bang out my thoughts ..one thing you cant do is to question my knowledge and intellect so you go after my grammar.. how white and lilliputian of you!!

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