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The Group Working Behind the Scenes to Diversify Museum Staffs

Stephanie Cunningham (left), and Monica Montgomery of Museum Hue in February 2015. All photos by Monica Montgomery
Stephanie Cunningham (left), and Monica Montgomery of Museum Hue at their official launch in February 2015 (photo courtesy of Lita Riddock Photography)

We keep talking about diversifying the museum. Clearly, many in the art and museum communities (and even those outside of it) are concerned about the makeup of the professional ranks of educational, curatorial, and exhibition staff, the majority of which, for a long time now, have been white and middle class. This is a complex and thorny issue that is not going away. Despite the passion with which this subject has been broached and the studies brought to bear to demonstrate the problem, the situation persists. Even when institutions acknowledge the issue, regard the goal of diversification as worthwhile, and are willing to work to achieve it, the question remains: how to do it?

One key answer is to support organizations that take this task as their mission. I thereby posed the question: what New York organizations take diversifying museums as their explicit mission? There are several that come close, such as institutionally sponsored fellowships and workshops that train educational staff to imagine new ways to serve diverse audiences, build advocacy infrastructure, and engage people of color in leadership and skills training. There are also initiatives that have been created by museum associations, such as the Diversity Professional Network of the American Alliance of Museums.

But none of these programs bring an organizational focus and weight to the task. Part of this institutional heft comes from mobilizing the energy, financial resources, and advocacy of a body of members. So far, my research has found only one such organization: Museum Hue, founded in October 2014 by Monica Montgomery, a director at the Lewis H. Latimer Historic House and the Museum of Impact, and Stephanie Cunningham, the audience engagement specialist at the Brooklyn Museum and an adjunct professor at City College.

As Montgomery explained to me during a conversation, the core goal of Museum Hue is to advance the viability and visibility of people of color in the arts and museum system. To this, she adds in a written response to my questions, “We creatively engage all people around culture, community, and careers,” which I take to mean that they are focused but not exclusive. The organization is in the process of filing for nonprofit status with the state of New York and currently operates as a “people-powered collective that is self-funded.” The collective is co-directed by Cunningham and Montgomery, and they are aided by a 10-person advisory council consisting of art history professors, museum educators, and museum managers. Museum Hue can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and includes a private Facebook jobs group with over 750 members around the country.

Museum Hue’s accomplishments are considerable. In a year and a half it has presented 10 tours at iconic NYC institutions, such as the Queens Museum, MoMA, the Schomburg, and the Museum of Art & Design; produced four professional-development workshops; hosted several hundred people on VIP museum tours; participated in several conferences; and hosted quarterly mixers, bringing hundreds of art and culture workers together.

Museum Hue with participants at the Power MCNY event in 2015
Participants in the “Hueseum” VIP tour and talk at the Museum of the City of New York, December 2015 (photo by Brian Cunningham)

Beyond the in-person events, it is the Facebook group — geared toward helping people of color find jobs, residencies, artist resources, and opportunities in the field — that is at the core of the organization’s work. In essence, Museum Hue is a networking and support group that offers members timely information on job offers as well as savvy career coaching, including résumé editing and counseling. One member I spoke with, Stephanie PhaFa Roy, told me that she landed her current job as Visitor Services and Digital Content Manager at MoCADA because of Museum Hue. “I am clear that I would never have gotten this opportunity without the support of Monica, Stephanie, and the Museum Hue community,” she said. Roy is not the only one: Montgomery says that her organization has been behind the successful hire of between 10 and 12 people at museums or arts organizations since its inception.

In the near future, Museum Hue will begin partnering with blogs, brands, and institutions to increase its scope and reach. Ultimately, says Montgomery, the organization exists to “recognize the absence of diversity and inclusion in cultural enclaves and use our presence and voice to counter this reality.” It seems that they are indeed accomplishing what they have set out to do.

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