How Are Museums Addressing In-House Diversity Problems?

As you read this, museum curators all over the US are working to address a widespread and perplexing "diversity problem." According to recent studies, while African Americans account for 13 percent of the US population, they account for only 3 percent of museum attendees. Latinos, meanwhile, constitute 15 percent of the population, but represent 5 percent of all museum attendees.

The outlook is equally stark for museum workers. A "data snapshot" from the American Alliance of Museums, using information gathered in 2009, reveals that nearly 80 percent of the museum workforce in this country is white. And if you drill down, you'll find that minorities are mostly working non-curatorial jobs. 

Fortunately, foundations have stepped up their efforts to address this problem. Leading the way is the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Back in January, it rolled out a new fellowship to diversify the curatorial field at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the High Museum in Atlanta.

We're pleased to report that less than a year later, Mellon's efforts have triggered a kind of chain reaction that has engulfed smaller museums and the cities they serve. Case in point, the KeyBank Foundation recently announced a $400,000 grant to the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio for the establishment of the KeyBank Fellowship Endowment Fund, which will support the creation of a KeyBank Fellowship for minority candidates interested in museum leadership careers. It will complement an existing fellowship that provides leadership training, mentoring, and hands-on experience at the executive level for post-doctoral candidates.

In fact, we venture to argue that the KeyBank fellowship elegantly complements the aforementioned Mellon fellowship. The latter, which connects college sophomores from marginalized backgrounds with curators at participating museums, focuses on recruitment. Once they're hooked, the KeyBank fellowship focuses on training, equipping fellows with the skills they need to navigate the ever-changing world of museum management.

Mellon and KeyBank didn't collaborate on these fellowships. But the fact that they provide a kind of holistic approach towards minority recruitment and training is not only a happy coincidence, it is also encouraging news that museums are taking their in-house diversity problem seriously.