From the Field

Art Museum Diversity Survey

July 29, 2015

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), has announced the results of  the first comprehensive survey to assess the ethnic and gender diversity of the staffs of art museums across the United States. Undertaken to replace anecdotal evidence with hard data, the survey provides the museum field with the first statistical baseline against which progress can be measured.

Among its chief findings, the survey documented a significant movement toward gender equality in art museums. Women now comprise some 60 percent of museum staffs, with a preponderance of women in the curatorial, conservation and education roles that can be a pipeline toward leadership positions. The survey found no such pipeline toward leadership among staff from historically underrepresented minorities. Although 28 percent of museum staffs are from minority backgrounds, the great majority of these workers are concentrated in security, facilities, finance and human resources jobs. Among museum curators, conservators, educators and leaders, only 4 percent are African American and 3 percent Hispanic.

"Both the relative underrepresentation of people of color on art museum staffs and the preponderance of men in museum leadership positions are well known phenomena," said Mariët Westermann, vice president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  "Until now, though, we have not had the statistical tools to analyze them.  With this new body of information, we can point to pathways for diversifying museum leadership and the positions that shape museums as venues of research and lifelong education."

The results of the survey were first presented in June 2015 at the AAMD annual meeting, held this year in Detroit.  The survey is available on the Mellon Foundation website.

Susan Taylor, President of AAMD, said, "We are profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for having proposed and supported this survey, following AAMD's recent report on the gender gap in art museum leadership.  The entire field is now better prepared to encourage the changes that will be necessary if U.S. art museums are to reflect, and address, the increasing diversity of the American people."

Elizabeth Merritt, Director of AAM's Center for the Future of Museums, said, "To thrive in the long term, it is crucial that museums bring the demographic profile of their staff into alignment with that of the communities they serve. This will require challenging a broad range of assumptions about how museums train, recruit and manage the staff responsible for collections, interpretation, education and leadership of our institutions.  And it will require taking a hard, uncomfortable look at the conscious and unconscious influences that have shaped our institutional culture and created the current imbalance."

In autumn 2014, the Mellon Foundation commissioned the research organization Ithaka S+R to design and implement this demographic survey, with the assistance of an advisory committee of AAMD staff and member museum leaders. AAM supported the effort by enabling distribution of the survey to art museums that are not AAMD members.  The survey, conducted by Ithaka S+R director Roger Schonfeld, compiled responses from 181 art museums.

The survey is among the most recent expressions of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's longstanding efforts to encourage diversity, one of the themes that cut across and inform the Foundation’s programs and activities in higher education, the humanities, and the arts.  Among other notable initiatives is a pilot program of undergraduate curatorial fellowships at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Inaugurated in 2013 with a $2.07 million grant, the program is designed to open the museum as a potential workplace to students from historically underrepresented minorities.

The Mellon Foundation intends to conduct follow-up diversity studies of the museum field at periodic intervals to help assess progress.

About the Association of Art Museum Directors
The Association of Art Museum Directors—representing 244 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico—promotes the vital role of art museums throughout North America and advances the profession by cultivating leadership and communicating standards of excellence in museum practice.  Further information about AAMD’s professional practice guidelines and position papers is available at

About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.