Actionable Guidance: Mellon Expands Efforts to Boost Diversity Across the Museum World

Back in 2015 the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation examined staff demographic surveys from 77 percent of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and 15 percent of the American Alliance of Museums' (AAM) 643 member institutions in an effort to gauge the state of diversity in the museum world.

Its two high-level findings were that first, women make up 60 percent of museum staff, and second, non-Hispanic whites make up 72 percent of museum staff of specifically AAMD members' staff. The museum world, in short, has a diversity problem.

If the first step in addressing a problem is to quantify its scope, Mellon is now turning to the next phase—supporting the creation of a series of case studies, in partnership with the AAMD and research firm Ithaka S+R, designed to "guide museum leadership teams in creating successful, forward-thinking plans to improve diversity and inclusivity in their staffing practices."

The eight case studies will be selected from a broad array of cultural institutions in an effort to "make the series accessible and instructive for all art museums with an interest in improving their training, management, and recruitment strategies." The museums to be profiled in the studies have "successfully designed inclusive strategies to diversify their staffs, and are leading the way in opening up fields historically dominated by white men to women and to employees of color."

Indeed, one of the silver linings from Mellon's "2015 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey" was how the research provided "baseline data against which future surveys can be measured, and, one hopes, progress tracked," according to Mellon Foundation Executive Vice President Mariët Westermann. These newly commissioned case studies will build on 2015's findings.

In fact, if it's best practices it seeks, I'd suggest the foundation take a look at their own work in the field, starting with a fellowship program, launched in 2014 the goal of diversifying the curatorial field at a handful of major U.S. museums.

"We know historically underrepresented minorities still lack a clear pathway toward leadership within museums. The great majority of the 28 percent of museum employees from minority backgrounds do not have jobs that typically lead to leadership positions," said Westermann. "We hope that these case studies will provide a helpful reference to museums around the country as a set of successful practices and concrete suggestions for action."