Over the past year, Ithaka S+R and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have partnered in a major qualitative study of equity, diversity, inclusion, and community engagement in art museums. In this project, which was conducted through detailed case studies of eight art museums, we did not find a panacea. Our work, however, finds that these eight museums have followed an array of common strategies, and through ongoing hard work have made a meaningful difference. Today, we are publishing an analytical capstone report that can serve as a guide to leaders in art museums and other cultural organizations.

Interrogating Institutional Practices in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion: Lessons and Recommendations from Case Studies in Eight Art Museums synthesizes findings from across all eight case studies, organizing them into three major themes:

  • Museum leadership and organizational structure
  • Connecting with communities
  • Evolving mission: collections and visitors.

Within these thematic areas are a series of recommendations, each of which connects to specific examples that can be found in the case studies.

This work  grew out of the 2015 Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, which gathered demographic data of staff from 181 Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) member  museums. After findings for that report were presented at AAMD’s 2015 Detroit meeting, many museum directors were surprised to learn of the degree of racial homogeneity in the field.While the quantitative findings were helpful in highlighting this issue for museum leaders, the survey results did not offer strategies for making their museums more diverse. In order to do that, Ithaka S+R to conducted a series of qualitative studies in partnership with the Mellon Foundation in order to better understand how institutions with a relatively high degree of diversity have achieved that representation. Using the data from the 2015 demographic survey, a set of criteria was established to create a cohort of 20 museums. To generate this list, variables such as region, museum size, and museum type were considered alongside racial demographics, in order to create a variety of cases from which many different kinds of museums could draw useful insights.

After corresponding with those museum directors, eight institutions were asked to participate in case studies. Over the course of 2017, site visits were conducted to each of the following museums: The Andy Warhol Museum, Brooklyn Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Detroit Institute of Arts, LACMA, MCA Chicago, Spelman College Museum, and Studio Museum in Harlem.

Site visits lasted 3-5 days and included between 12-20 interviews with museum staff, board members, outside partners, and visitors. Researchers also observed meetings, public events, and galleries. This evidence was contextualized through further research into the history of the museum’s relationship to its local environment.

We hope that this work will help to highlight both the successes and challenges that these museums have faced as they’ve engaged with issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in their own museums, in order to allow arts administrators to interrogate their own institutional practices in these areas and develop new solutions.