Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

People of color make up 45% of total current museum staff hired in 2021, and museum leaders must work to retain these workers in order to thrive as the art world continues to emerge from the pandemic, according to a new survey by the Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R.

“It is encouraging to see that some museums have found effective strategies to improve staff diversity, and refreshing to dispel the refrain that there are no qualified people of color to hire for these roles,” Elizabeth Alexander, a poet, essayist, playwright, and the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation wrote in the forward to the 2022 cycle of the Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey.

The global pandemic shuttered the art world, creating major obstacles for museums throughout the world. Institutions struggled to survive, creating online experiences in an effort to keep museum-goers interested as the in-person experience disappeared.

More than half (56%) of museums furloughed or laid off staff since the global art world came to a screeching halt in March 2020, including 22% saying they laid off full-time workers, and 28% laying off part-time employees, according to a report released earlier this year by Arlington, Virginia-based American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the full breadth of the museum community.

Museums have “dramatically increased” staffing in security, facilities, and education since 2020, according to the new data from the Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R.

The Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R data indicates positive change since the darkest days, but significant work awaits museum directors who want to forge ahead.

Between 2020 and 2022, museum directors have shifted their perspectives, recognizing DEAI (diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion) competencies as being intrinsic to their own professional success, based on an analysis of data collected from 328 museums in North America between February 2022 and April 2022. Museums shared records for over 30,000 individuals.

Data show an ongoing, modest rise in people of color (POC) across all museum roles. Despite increased diversity among museum leadership and conservation positions, POC make up fewer than one-fifth of those roles. More than 40% of younger staff and newer hires are POC, with the majority of hires from Hispanic, Asian, and multi-racial backgrounds.

Even as the number of Black people in museum leadership roles has more than doubled between 2015 and 2022, there hasn’t been a meaningful increase in Black staff in the aggregate. The number of Black people working in information technology has tripled and the number in curatorial positions has quadrupled over that period.

Binary gender ratios have held steady since 2015, but vary widely across positions. Women account for over 75% of intellectual leadership positions, and representation of women employees across all museum leadership has jumped from 58% in 2015 to 66% in 2022.

Recognizing a watershed moment for museums, Ithaka S+R has partnered with the Mellon Foundation, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), and AAM since 2014 to study the representational diversity within art museums through quantitative means.

Ithaka S+R is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization that helps academics use digital technologies in sustainable ways.

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