From the Field

Research on Art Museums

AAMD regularly participates in research to better understand the art museum field as a whole. Following are three recent examples produced by Ithaka S+R: The Art Museum Director Survey 2022; the third cycle of the Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey; and the The Black Trustee Alliance 2022 Art Museum Trustee Survey.


Art Museum Director Survey 2022
Documenting Change in Museum Strategy and Operations
Authors: Liam Sweeney, Joanna Dressel

In April 2022, with funding from the Kress Foundation and the Mellon Foundation, and in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), Ithaka S+R launched the second iteration of the Art Museum Director Survey. One hundred and eighty-one art museum directors completed the attitudinal survey, sharing perspectives about the institution they represent, as well as the museum sector as a whole. (Find the Art Museum Director Survey from 2020 here.)

Key Findings:

  • Managing change is a key competency for current directors: From public health crises that forced museums to develop virtual programming to developing strategic approaches to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) and anti-racism work, leaders of art museums believe they must be nimble, responding rapidly to changing social and physical environments.
  • Pay equity is a top priority among many interrelated DEAI strategies in museums: When asked how they prioritize different aspects of DEAI work in their museum, the strategies most frequently seen as high priorities are 1) pay equity and 2) paying a living wage to all staff. Directors see raising staff wages as a central component to creating an equitable and diverse workplace. Museum directors also see DEAI strategies related to increasing staff diversity, reaching new audiences, and ensuring accessibility for disabled visitors as high priorities. Responses indicate that directors see overlap and intersection between DEAI commitments, staff retention and recruitment, and investments in virtual programming.
  • The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of museums but approaches to digitization vary: Since 2020, museums have dramatically increased their focus on providing digital experiences for audiences. However, academic museums have prioritized digitizing collections, particularly of diverse artists, while municipal museums did not report prioritizing digitization. Gaps in this activity may reflect different approaches to digitization before the pandemic, different constituencies and governance, or availability of resources and infrastructure.
  • Museums have not solved the revenue/expense bind, challenging their ability to address pay equity concerns: While paying a livable wage to staff and improving pay equity are significant concerns for directors, revenue ratios are the same as before the pandemic. At the same time, personnel costs remain the highest expense category for museums.
  • Retaining staff becomes increasingly challenging: Directors are optimistic about adding employee positions in a number of areas; however they also report increased difficulty in recruiting and retaining employees: In directors’ understanding of why employees are voluntarily leaving their museum, staff satisfaction issues beyond pay, including work-life balance, are growing in importance.
  • A high number of museum directors are preparing for future climate crises or have already experienced them: Even as museum leaders grapple with current crises, they prepare for the unpredictable impacts of climate change. A number of museums have already experienced damage to their buildings and collections. Many have adopted assessment tools to measure their carbon footprint.


Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2022
Authors: Liam Sweeney, Deirdre Harkins, Joanna Dressel

With support from the Mellon Foundation and in partnership with AAM and AAMD, Ithaka S+R conducted a third cycle of the Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey. As museums have struggled with revenue losses due to the pandemic, many in the field expressed concern that museums would grow less diverse. This study shows that the opposite is true. Findings shed light on the trajectory of demographic changes and the impact of the pandemic on staffing. (Find the 2018 Staff Demographic Survey here, and the 2015 Staff Demographic survey here.)

Key findings include:

  • The field grows more diverse: With respect to the race and ethnicity of museum staff, data show a continued, moderate increase in people of color (POC) across all museum roles.[3] Museum leadership and conservation positions, while growing more diverse, have not exceeded one-fifth POC representation overall. Over 40 percent of younger staff and newer hires are POC. In the aggregate, the demographic changes in museum staff are primarily due to increases in staff from three backgrounds: Hispanic, Asian, and those who are Two or More Races. While there has not been a significant increase in Black staff in the aggregate, between 2015 and 2022, the number of Black staff in museum leadership has more than doubled, while tripling in information technology and quadrupling in curatorial positions.
  • Gender ratios remain consistent: Gender ratios have held consistent since 2015 but vary widely according to roles within the museum. Across intellectual leadership positions in the museum, female employees constitute a large majority, over 75 percent. The representation of female employees in museum leadership has increased substantially, from 58 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2022.[4]
  • Staffing bounces back from the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant reductions in hiring among some of the most diverse departments in museums, such as security, facilities, and education. However, museums have dramatically increased staffing in all of these areas since 2020.
  • Retention rates will be an important factor in maintaining current levels of diversity in the field: As museums rebound from the pandemic, they are doing so with greater diversity in their hiring practices. However, in order to maintain or continue building on this increased diversity, staff retention will be an important consideration for museum leaders.
  • More museum directors prioritize DEAI: More than twice as many museum directors see DEAI issues as central to their work compared to 2020. Providing a livable wage and ensuring pay equity are most frequently seen as very high priorities by museum directors. Directors at more diverse museums also consider increasing representational diversity among museum staff and leadership to be a very high priority.


The BTA 2022 Art Museum Trustee Survey
The Characteristics, Roles, and Experiences of Black Trustees
Authors: Liam Sweeney, Deirdre Harkins, Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Dominique Adams-Santos

The Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums (BTA) has partnered with Ithaka S+R to examine the experiences and demographics of art museum trustees from museums in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Through a shared interest in representation in the arts, BTA and Ithaka S+R fielded the Art Museum Trustee Survey to board members in the fall of 2021. The report investigates the characteristics, roles, and experiences of Black trustees in North American art museums.

Key Findings from the Quantitative Study:

  • Black trustees tend to be younger and are less likely to show indications of intergenerational wealth;
  • Black trustees are more likely to hold PhDs and professional degrees than White board members;
  • Black trustees, like non-Black trustees, are identified for board service primarily through pre-existing relationships with the museum director or other trustees;
  • Black trustees have a high representation on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Governance and/or Nominating committees, and a lower representation on Investment, Director’s Search, and Collections/ Acquisitions committees;
  • Black trustees are less likely than White board members to have family members that serve/served on art museum boards, but a third have/had family members on other nonprofit boards;
  • Across all race categories, including Black trustees, the majority of respondents are highly satisfied with their board experience. However, Black trustees were more likely than their fellow trustees to report a negative climate in the boardroom;
  • The diversity of a trustee’s network is an important strategic consideration when recruiting for nomination to the board.

This report unpacks the significance of these key findings and highlights the implications they have for the boardrooms of art museums. These findings reflect a moment in time, creating a benchmark from which change can be measured in future survey and interview cycles. Senior leadership and current board members may find these aggregate statistics and qualitative responses useful when considering how to nominate trustees and cultivate inclusive and equitable climates in the boardroom.