This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of museum review, a benefit of AAM membership.
In 2015, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole delivered a landmark keynote address at the AAM and MuseumExpo Annual Meeting in Atlanta. In it, she called on museums to “have social value by not only inspiring but creating change around one of the most critical issues of our time – the issue of diversity”. This clarion call continues to guide AAM’s DEAI work seven years later.
In 2016, with Laura Lott newly installed as President and CEO of the AAM, the Alliance included “diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of structures and museum programming” as one of the three priority areas of its strategic plan. Then, in 2017, building on the decades-long work of many people, the AAM convened a task force of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) leaders. ) of the domain to examine why the domain had not made more progress. diverse, inclusive and equitable – and start developing an actionable strategy.
The DEAI Task Force, chaired by Dr. Cole and Lott and supported by the AAM’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Nicole Ivy, released a final report titled Coping with Change: Perspectives from the AAM DEAI Working Group. The five ideas included the following imperatives:
- favor the individual work of museum professionals to confront our unconscious prejudices,
- finding ways to make systemic changes, and
- ensure ownership of the DEAI at all levels of museums.
The same year, the inauguration of the AAM 2017 Museum Board Leadership report has become the first-ever comprehensive look at the people, work and culture of more than 850 museum boards. The data was extremely valuable, but also quite disappointing. Among many discoveries, we learned that nearly half of ALL museum boards were 100% white – not a single person of color. Less than 10% of board members and museum directors identified as people of color. Unfortunately, decades of investment in various pipelines, grants, and alternative pathways to museum work had made little headway toward our goal of having more racially and ethnically diverse leadership in museums.
At a time when the demographics of our communities are rapidly changing, the lack of diverse representation at the top of our institutions and too few museums doing deep soul-searching work meant that museums were making little substantial progress in becoming more equitable and inclusive.
However, the data also showed promisingly that the vast majority of museum directors felt that expanding racial and ethnic diversity was vital to their museums’ missions and that they were dissatisfied with racial diversity. /ethnicity of their boards of directors. But only a small percentage (10%) of these museums had developed an action plan or allocated resources to do this work.
AAM’s leadership team, including Lott, Dr. Ivy, Brooke Leonard, Rob Stein, Arthur Affleck, and advisor Kathy Dwyer Southern, saw an opportunity to fill this gap with a focus on boards. , as this is where values and “tone” are set, culture begins, strategic decisions are made and budgets/resources are allocated. Sustained, large-scale, cohort-based plank work had never been tried before. And many thought it was impossible.
In 2019, AAM launched a pilot, Responding to Change: Advancing Diversity and Inclusion on Museum Boards, working with museum boards to reflect and learn, create action plans to develop more inclusive board cultures, and recruit and elect more diverse board members – in most cases, this meant more people of color. Three foundations have come together to support the museum field in this critical work: the Mellon, Alice L. Walton and Ford foundations. The project was led by AAM’s Senior Director of Equity and Culture, Andrew Plumley, Senior Director of DEAI Programs, Grace Stewart, and DEAI Project Manager, Ibrahim Shafau.
The AAM created cohorts of museums (see “Participating Museums” on the previous page) that broadly represented the diversity of our museum field, because DEAI and racial equity are the work of all museums. The cohorts included large and small museums of different types – history and art museums, science centers and zoos. And they were in several different parts of the country—Chicagoland; the San Francisco Bay Area; the twin cities; Jackson, Mississippi; and several cities in Texas, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.
A key element of the Coping with change The initiative built capacity for DEAI work in the field by hiring, raising and supporting 10 DEAI Senior Fellows – Aiko Bethea, Sandra Bonnici, Eric Carpio, Makeba Clay, Omar Eaton Martinez, Ann Hernandez, Danielle Linzer, Azuka MuMin, Cecile Shellman, and Levon Williams, who have been tasked with mentoring a cohort of museums. These fellows have individualized the national program to meet the unique context and needs of each museum in the program.
Beginning in the fall of 2019, the AAM hosted a dozen board retreats across the country. Amid divisive national politics, numerous natural disasters, the very public killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many other black and brown people, and a global pandemic that has shuttered museums and forced budget cuts and personnel, the pilot has persisted through 2021 – and achieved some significant results:
1,400 museum leaders and administrators completed the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and participated in multiple trainings to address their unconscious biases. (AAM staff and board members and the Commission on Accreditation also joined museum trustees in these steps.)
So far, 42 of the participating museums have added more than 120 new candidates of various races/ethnicities to their boards.
Museum boards have developed and are implementing measurable DEAI goals and plans.
And almost all participants reported increased knowledge and understanding of DEAI issues during their time in the Coping with change program.
There is still a lot of work to do. And it is in progress. Each museum’s journey has been its own – and yet we have found power in the cohorts, in the communities of practice that are being built.
In the following articles, participating museums and Senior DEAI Fellows share their insights, experiences, and learnings from their time in the Coping with change program. Over the coming months, AAM will continue to share additional learnings and resources developed throughout Coping with change.
Aurora Regional Fire Museum, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, Lincoln Park Zoo, Museum of the Grand Prairie, Naper Settlement and Oak Park River Forest Museum
San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose:
Bay Area Discovery Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Exploratorium, Filoli Historic House and Garden, Museum of Sonoma County, Oakland Museum of California, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Museum of Contemporary Art Houston, Dallas Heritage Village, DiverseWorks, Fort Bend History Association, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Holocaust Museum Houston, Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Space Center Houston and Witte Museum
BB King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, International Museum of Muslim Cultures, Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (Eudora Welty House and Garden), Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Historic Jefferson College, Manship House Museum, Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, Museum of Mississippi History, Old Capitol Museum, Winterville Mounds and Mississippi Museum of Art
American Swedish Institute, Anoka County Historical Society, Bell Museum, Goldstein Museum of Design, Hennepin History Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Ramsey County Historical Society, Science Museum of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Walker Art Center and Weisman Art Museum
Visit aam-us.org/programs/resource-library/diversity-equity-accessibility-and-inclusion-resources for DEAI Museum Resources.