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.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...

8 replies on “The Group Working Behind the Scenes to Diversify Museum Staffs”

  1. When social/racial engineering is in vogue. When someone’s “supreme” vision is enforced upon the people. When such is called “progress”. You know, it isn’t “America”.

      1. OK, Could you please answer a few questions to clear things up for me. 1) can you share for me the quota levels they set for each of the various ethnicities? Or, did they do it like it is now, where blacks are what matters in reference to others? 2) If the U.S. formed its Olympic team on fairness and equality, would they win any metals? You get one average height black player on the court at a time, a mexican, an Asian and 2 whites, 2 have to be old, 1 in a wheelchair. 2 women on the court at all times, and nobody who can run fast or jump high, thats not fair to the others who can’t. Don’t forget your transgender on the court too.

        1. Hi Steve,

          It doesn’t seem that you understand what Museum Hue is about, or really what the conversation with regard to diversity within the museum world is about. To confuse a push for diversity among museum staffs, with the “enforcing” of a “supreme vision” that is, in your words tantamount to “social engineering” is in all honesty woefully ignorant. The push for increased Diversity, is at least in part impelled by an understanding among the professional ranks of museum scholars and workers that (American) museums need to be relevant to a wider part of the general population, both in order to fulfill their Enlightenment-founded mission of universal education, and in order to stay viable (or profitable) institutions.

          Museums in the last generation have become more centered on the visitor, and that has a ripple effect in terms of thinking about how to reach other visitors that had previously been largely ignored. More, people who care about museums, as well as those who work in or study them, recognize that the previous state of de facto disfranchisement of a section of the population at the institutional level works for no one. No one benefits from that situation. With greater diversity of staff the museum’s scope and reach is only enlarged and made more welcoming to greater numbers of people.

          The example you use of an Olympic squad is poorly chosen, because culture is not a contest. Your position seems to be informed by a jaundiced (and mercenary capitalist) view of the social world in which we are all competing for spots on a team. A lot of people who take the cause of diversity seriously are not trying to beat anyone before the buzzer sounds.

          1. I do not think you get it. Just because people choose to not be in a contest, or choose to not compete, it does not matter, you are judged and sentenced by the world, by economic law, by nature. To be clear, the Olympic squad is a perfect example of why America is in the decline it is.

          2. Dear Steve,

            It doesn’t seem that you read my entire response, that or you are unable to respond coherently. There are too many, to my mind, convoluted and half-formed ideas to take the time to adequately address: culture seen as a contest; who the “you” is who is judged and sentenced; what you mean by the terms “the world”,”economic law”, “nature” what you define as “decline”. What also seems obvious is that you are hostile to the idea of expanding the scope and reach of museums and that you started this argument to express your own positions rather than do some thinking about them.

            Let’s leave it at that.

          3. I read it, and I believe everyone benefits by participation in the arts and museums. What I have a problem with is presentation of such, efforts to encourage participation, that are quite literally profiling target populations based on race for inclusion (or exclusion). And I simply point to a crystal clear very simple to understand analogy that shows such discriminatory efforts produce inferior results. So you understand, I am one of these weird people who appreciate others based on their uniqueness, and what that difference offers intellectually and to our society. It upsets me to see the value in “difference” being stamped out by required “sameness” (equality). The concept of designing society based on some sort of pretext of preferred racial mix seems to run contrary to free and organic growth.

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