How diverse are America’s art museums? In terms of one measure—employee demographics—not very. A 2014 study, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and undertaken by Ithaka S+R in partnership with the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), showed that the field is much more homogenous with respect to race and ethnicity than the nation as a whole. While these findings have already had widespread impact, the study also raised questions about how art museums can do more to reflect and support the communities they serve. Now as a follow up the Mellon Foundation, AAMD, and Ithaka S+R are collaborating on a series of case studies to study and document the practices of institutions that have succeeded in employing staff who are representative of their environment.

Modeled after a case study on BRIC, an arts and media organization in New York City, the eight case studies in this project will focus on art museums that have achieved a degree of representational diversity in terms of race and ethnicity. We will conduct these case studies across an array of museum types, including institutions of different size, focus, and location.

In addition to employee diversity, the case studies will examine broader issues around programming, leadership and boards, culture, and inclusion. Each case study will be published in 2017 and freely available on our website, providing museum leaders with information about how peer organizations have become more inclusive, have diversified their employees, and have achieved measures of equity, not only in terms of race and ethnicity but also with respect to disability, LGBTQ, gender, and more. In addition to sharing what is working in these museums, we hope to learn of the barriers they have faced and challenges they have weathered. This project will be successful if we are able to help museum leaders learn from each other as they endeavor to make their institutions more reflective of their communities. In early 2018, we will publish a capstone report that will synthesize findings from across the case studies.

Our initial Museum Diversity Study sought to replace anecdotal evidence with hard data, and now the survey provides art museums with the first statistical baseline against which progress can be measured. It has also contributed further to important conversations about diversity in cultural institutions, from the boardroom to the front desk. The report was also covered in a wide range of media, including  Houston Public RadioThe New York Times, and The Art Newspaper, and Philanthropy News Digest. It was referenced by various institutional and municipal policy makers as part of efforts to develop new initiatives, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

We are excited to continue to build on these insights. With this partnership we hope to complement the data with a qualitative set of findings that will give leaders in the museum community new insights into how their peers have succeeded in approaching this issue.