Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2022
Art museums aspire to play a singular social role for the public—they commit to both preserving and stewarding collections of art for current and future generations, while also serving as a space for learning, interacting, and exploring. Art museums are crucial third places for curated experiences with beauty, creativity, scholarship, and history. Such spaces have the ability to strengthen communities, provide sublime or contemplative experiences, and provoke the imagination.
But these lofty aims bring with them responsibilities—namely, the inclusion of diverse perspectives that can allow institutions to effectively reflect and welcome everyone who might benefit from such a project. By this measure, art museums have a history of failure. We know that, with respect to audiences, people of color are less likely to feel comfortable in museums than their White peers. We know that historical collecting practices have skewed toward White men. And, through the Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R’s research into the demographics of art museum staff, we know the field has struggled to hire a diverse workforce, particularly within roles that are tasked with narrating cultural histories.
With the 2022 cycle of the Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey, the Mellon Foundation and Ithaka S+R have found steady progress has been made since we began collecting this data in 2014 for the first 2015 Art Museum Demographic Survey. However, people of color still fill under 25 percent of certain important positions, and gains among Black and Indigenous staff have been limited.
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. The findings in this report reveal changes in staffing patterns since the pandemic and racial justice protests of 2020, changes that have brought a substantial increase in POC staff to museums.
We share this report publicly as a tool that might inform museums as they pursue strategies to align their staff to better reflect and engage with the diverse publics they are committed to serve.
Elizabeth Alexander Mellon Foundation
With support from the Mellon Foundation and in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), Ithaka S+R has conducted a third cycle of the Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey. This cycle gathered data from 328 museums in North America from February to April 2022. During that time, participating museums reported records for over 30,000 individuals, whose demographics are analyzed in this report. In addition, we have been able to supplement the demographic analysis with perspectives from art museum directors about their efforts to address diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) among their staff.
As museums have struggled with revenue losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some cases laid off large numbers of staff, many in the field have expressed concern that museums would grow less diverse, shifting into an emergency posture that would deprioritize considerations like the representational diversity of staff.This study shows that the opposite is true. Findings shed light on the trajectory of demographic changes in the field, the impact of the pandemic on staffing, and the relationship between the perspectives and attitudes of museum directors and the composition of their staff.
Key findings include:
- The field grows more diverse: With respect to the race and ethnicity of museum staff, data show a continued, moderate increase in people of color (POC) across all museum roles. Museum leadership and conservation positions, while growing more diverse, have not exceeded one-fifth POC representation overall. Over 40 percent of younger staff and newer hires are POC. In the aggregate, the demographic changes in museum staff are primarily due to increases in staff from three backgrounds: Hispanic, Asian, and those who are Two or More Races. While there has not been a significant increase in Black staff in the aggregate, between 2015 and 2022, the number of Black staff in museum leadership has more than doubled, while tripling in information technology and quadrupling in curatorial positions.
- Gender ratios remain consistent: Gender ratios have held consistent since 2015 but vary widely according to roles within the museum. Across intellectual leadership positions in the museum, female employees constitute a large majority, over 75 percent. The representation of female employees in museum leadership has increased substantially, from 58 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2022.
- Staffing bounces back from the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant reductions in hiring among some of the most diverse departments in museums, such as security, facilities, and education. However, museums have dramatically increased staffing in all of these areas since 2020.
- Retention rates will be an important factor in maintaining current levels of diversity in the field: As museums rebound from the pandemic, they are doing so with greater diversity in their hiring practices. However, in order to maintain or continue building on this increased diversity, staff retention will be an important consideration for museum leaders.
- More museum directors prioritize DEAI: More than twice as many museum directors see DEAI issues as central to their work compared to 2020. Providing a livable wage and ensuring pay equity are most frequently seen as very high priorities by museum directors. Directors at more diverse museums also consider increasing representational diversity among museum staff and leadership to be a very high priority.
In relation to one another, these findings present a complex portrait of the sector. Museums are diversifying in the aggregate, and we are seeing increased diversity in positions that had remained stagnant between 2015 and 2018. However, most of the diversity, particularly representation of Black and Hispanic staff, remains in “people-facing” positions. These positions are also often low paying and have the lowest retention between survey cycles.
In addition to support from the Mellon Foundation, outreach from AAM and AAMD, and guidance from advisors, this study is the result of a collective effort among leaders of North American art museums to continue learning about the state of representation in their field. Over the course of three months, museum directors worked with their human resources staff to collect and submit demographic and employment data in a standardized format. Their contributions have made these findings possible.
Our research of staff demographics in museums began in 2015, when over 80 percent of the intellectual leadership positions in museums were composed of White, non-Hispanic employees. A subsequent cycle of the project, published in 2018, showed modest changes in the demographics of art museum staff, but the underlying patterns of homogeneity remained the same. With the assistance of the Mellon Foundation, in coordination with the Association of African American Museums (AAAM), the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), and the Center for Curatorial Leadership (CCL), we expanded the population of participating art museums to reach a broader pool of museums. The current report thus includes a broader array of museums than in 2015 and 2018. The addition of new museums will ensure that this study includes a necessary range of voices. Appendix A indicates that changes in results described in this report are not driven by changes in the set of sampled institutions.
We also made some minor adjustments to the survey instrument to include several new positions. These changes are documented in the methodology section of the report (Appendix A). Also, in addition to examining the intellectual leadership subgroup, we have created five categories that reflect the differing roles of staff in the museum. These include: Administration, Building Operations, Collections, Communications, and Public Engagement. The “roles” in this report refer to these five subgroupings.
Between April 5 and May 6, 2022, with funding from the Kress and Mellon foundations, we also administered a survey of art museum directors. We include some data from that research in this report to place the attitudes and perspectives of directors in the context of the staff demographics of their museums.
- Museums were instructed to submit data for all of their currently employed full- and part-time permanent and temporary staff. ↑
- We heard speculation of this nature from advisors and in trade media. For more literature on this topic, see Nancy Kenney, “Exclusive Survey: What Progress Have US Museums Made on Diversity, after A Year of Racial Reckoning?” Art Newspaper, 25 May 2021, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/05/25/exclusive-survey-what-progress-have-us-museums-made-on-diversity-after-a-year- of-racial-reckoning. ↑
- We are using the term POC when presenting binary analysis between White staff and staff who reported a race other than White. For a full list of terms and definitions used in this report, please refer to Appendix C. ↑
- For definitions of gender used in this report, please refer to Appendix C. ↑
- In this report, we follow the convention of capitalizing all race categories as proper nouns. For more on this topic, see Kristen Mack and John Palfrey, “Capitalizing Black and White: Grammatical Justice and Equity,” MacArthur Foundation, 26 August 2020, https://www.macfound.org/press/perspectives/capitalizing-black-and-white-grammatical-justice-and-equity. ↑
- Mariët Westermann, Liam Sweeney, and Roger C. Schonfeld, “Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey 2018,” Ithaka S+R, 28 January 2019, https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.310935. ↑
- In 2018 we restricted some of our analysis to AAMD member museums that participated in both cycles of the survey. In this report we include all participants. This choice was made for two reasons: 1) when comparing the demographic composition of repeat participants and new participants, we found that including all participants did not meaningfully change trends; and 2) there are significant limitations to restricting analysis to repeat participants. Each cycle of the survey, the eligible population for analysis would grow smaller, and new museums would have very little incentive to participate. However, there is one exception to this rule—when analyzing retention rates within positions, we compare only respondents who participated in 2018 and 2022. This allows us to accurately determine how many staff who were working in the sector prior to 2018 are no longer employed. Please see the methodology section in Appendix A for more detail on how survey populations compare. ↑
- Each role comprises the following positions: Administration: membership/development, museum leadership, DEAI, finance, HR, IT, support/administration; Building Operations: preparation, gardens/grounds, facilities, security, retail and store, exhibitions design; Collections: conservation, curatorial, registrar, librarian; Communications: publication/editorial, rights/reproduction, marketing/public relations, digital strategy; Public Engagement: education, public engagement, visitor services. ↑
- Liam Sweeney and Joanna Dressel, “Art Museum Director Survey 2022: Documenting Change in Museum Strategy and Operations,” Ithaka S+R, 27 October 2022, https://sr.ithaka.org/publications/art-museum-director-survey-2022. ↑