All too often, museum staff don’t reflect the communities where they’re located. A 2015 study by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that only 16 percent of art museum leadership positions were held by people of color, even though 38 percent of Americans identify as black, Hispanic, Asian or multiracial.
In response, the Ford Foundation and Walton Family Foundation have announced that they will each commit $3 million over three years to support diversifying curatorial and management staff at U.S. art museums. Their Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative will fund 20 programs at museums, including the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Oakland Museum of California and the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum.
The foundations’ goal is to fill 30 percent of mid- and senior-level curatorial and management positions with staffers from underrepresented populations by 2025, Artnet News reports. Grant recipients will need to match every $2 of grant money with a dollar of their own for the first year, and match the foundations on a one-to-one basis for the two years following. Most of the grants are more than $150,000 — some are as high as $550,000 — according to Artnet.
A good portion of the funds will go toward internships, apprenticeships and fellowships. The New Orleans Museum of Art will provide internships specifically to students at historically black universities. The Phoenix Art Museum will offer internships and curatorial fellowships focused on Latinx art.
“For museums to be truly inviting public spaces, they must better reflect the communities they serve,” Alice Walton, founder and board chair of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, said, according to a release. “Achieving diversity requires a deeper commitment: To hire and nurture leaders from all backgrounds. This initiative creates the opportunity for museums to build a more inclusive culture within their institutions.”
As Next City has covered, the Queens Museum in New York is one successful model that museums looking to diversify can emulate. The institution employs two bilingual community organizers who work with local groups and politicians on everything from public space and education efforts to presentations on environmental justice and helping the community contend with U.S. immigration issues.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.