I think all of you would agree with the following statement: art museums should find ways to reflect the needs, interests, and diversity of the communities they serve.
But while museums have grown significantly more attentive to needs and interests over the last decade--bolstered by new avenues of engagement with audiences, such as through social media--attention to diversity continues to lag. Like many things, that attention needs to start within the museum in order to be more effective with constituencies outside the museum.
Numerous studies have examined the ethnic composition of the art museum sector, particularly the under-representation of people of color in leadership and governance roles. The sad truth is that the art museum workplace is not keeping up with demographic shifts in the general population.
According to the U.S. Census, 50% of the US population will be people of color by 2042; that's less than 30 years from now, or one generation away. The Hispanic/Latino population in particular is one of the fastest growing in the country, currently representing 15% of the overall population but in some cities and states, like Texas, it is already at or over 30%. The African American population is up 22% in the last decade. Both outgrew the white population in percentage terms and in raw numbers.
These population increases are already contributing to changes in the labor pool. Within the next five years, more than 43% of new entrants to the workforce will be people of color.
Shifts in the general population again underscore the need for art museums to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. The American Alliance of Museums, using information gathered in 2009, noted that nearly 80% of the museum workforce in this country is white. In and of itself, that isn't too much of an overrepresentation, but the breakdown of who works what jobs in museums often seems self-evident when you look around - guards tend to be people of color, curators are predominantly white.
Addressing diversity and inclusion at art museums cannot and should not wait until the economy fully recovers, until the budget is balanced, or until all of the traditional priorities have been addressed.
In Fall 2013, AAMD launched a pilot program with UNCF - the pilot was limited to 13 museums and 13 UNCF partner schools. The program has already placed 7 interns and will continue into the fall semester with 6 more. We recently welcomed the first class of AAMD/UNCF fellows to our meeting in Dallas, TX. They are:
Columbia Museum of Art / Allen University, Columbia SC
Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
Birmingham Museum of Art / Miles College, Fairfield AL
New Orleans Museum of Art / Dillard University, New Orleans, LA
Philadelphia Museum of Art / Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Cheyney, PA
Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries / Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA
High Museum of Art / Morehouse College, Atlanta GA
Creating a diverse and inclusive environment cannot merely be delegated to human resources staff or a chief diversity officer. Personal commitment followed by action, from an institution's highest leadership level, is the only way to make progress in advancing more people of color to senior roles--and in turn, better engaging with the diversity of constituents within each community. The art museum field cannot treat the diversity as an objective to "work towards" gradually, over decades. Time is running out and we will be left behind.
As the economy recovers, we will again be competing with organizations that offer more money, better perks, and, in many cases, concrete evidence that they value diversity. AAMD is committed to acting on behalf of the field to make this a priority going forward.
Executive Director, AAMD