Findings from the Inaugural Art Museum Director Survey
Benchmarking Perspectives from Early 2020
Today, Jennifer Frederick and I published findings from the inaugural art museum director survey, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and conducted in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Alliance of Museums. The survey captures the perspectives of directors from a moment in time before the COVID-19 pandemic forced closures of museums in the US, and before the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked major protests against police brutality across the country. These results will serve as a valuable benchmark from which we can measure change over time, as the museum field adapts to radically different social and financial realities.
The survey was fielded in February and March, and we chose to close the survey when it became clear that the pandemic had thrown museum leaders collectively into an indefinite period of crisis management. Even with the truncated survey administration period, we were able to secure a 50 percent response rate, allowing us enough evidence to conduct a thorough analysis of the data with confidence that it was reflective of perspectives in the field.
The findings are organized into four primary sections. These sections explore issues of leadership, budgeting and staffing, visitors and the public, and collections. Some findings are noteworthy because of how rapidly the field has changed since the survey was fielded. For instance, fewer than 50 percent of respondents considered digital experiences for audiences who don’t visit the museum to be a priority at their institution. But within weeks of closures the majority of museums had developed digital strategies to engage their audiences from home, and it is likely these strategies will change the relevance of virtual engagement in the future.
Findings from the survey reveal that prior to the pandemic, directors prioritized education as a primary function of the art museum and expected to increase hiring for education staff. However, as the pandemic hit, museum educators disproportionately bore the burden of layoffs and furloughs. This is likely a consequence of their employment circumstances; many museum educators are hired as part-time contractors and do not have the same level of job security as full-time staff in the museum.
It will be especially instructive to see how directors’ perspectives evolve with time, and therefore further surveys of directors’ perspectives will be crucial to track these evolutions. For the moment, we are lucky to have this baseline from which change can be measured.
Many thanks to the advisors who offered guidance at various stages in the project:
- Brent Benjamin, Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum
- Rod Bigelow, Executive Director & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
- Terry Carbone, Program Director for American Art, The Henry Luce Foundation
- Jill Deupi, Beaux Arts Director and Chief Curator of The Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
- Lori Fogarty, Director & CEO, Oakland Museum of California
- Lial Jones, Mort and Marcy Friedman Director and CEO, Crocker Art Museum
- Heather MacDonald, Senior Program Officer, The Getty Foundation
- Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President for Strategic Foresight, American Alliance of Museums and Founding Director of the Center for the Future of Museums
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