As with many institutions, museums and art galleries have long excluded women and minority communities. This inequity has been on display—albeit not always recognized as such—in both the collections of art and the composition of these organizations’ staff, management, and boards.
Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd have spurred rising public recognition of enduring inequities. In response, many art institutions are stepping up their efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.
For investors looking to make an impact on equity for women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), these moves may signal new trends, directions, and needs for their support.
Addressing Gaps in Museums and Diversity
A lack of diversity among staff and leadership has pervaded art institutions for decades, if not centuries. A 2018 survey found that just 4% of museum curators were Black, doubling the mere 2% in 2015. People of color held just 1% of leadership positions in 2015, a figure which reached 12% by 2018.
This makeup mirrors disparities in the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of artists on display. A 2019 study of 18 museums recorded that some 85.4% of works were composed by white artists—just 1.2% of artists were Black; 2.8% were Latinx, and 9% were Asian. Similarly, 87.4% of the works came from men.
Identifying Signs of Progress
Over the past few years, museums and galleries have moved more aggressively to address their diversity deficits. In some cases, that’s taken the form of naming a more diverse roster of candidates to leadership positions. For instance, the Smithsonian Institution appointed architecture and design expert Maria Nicanor as director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in February 2022. That announcement came soon after Jorge Zamanillo, head of a community-based Miami museum, was named the first director of the National Museum of the American Latino.
2020 also saw a series of institutions including the Seattle Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art establish full-time roles to promote diversity and inclusion. Many expressed aims to promote diversity in staff and programming as well as to step up outreach to people of color in the larger community.
Some of the most influential museums in the country are also making it a priority to build more diverse art collections. In 2020, for example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it would create a $10 million endowment for purchasing work by BIPOC artists.
More dramatic attempts to promote inclusion in museums have met stiff resistance. In 2020, the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art attempted to sell three works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol to pay for the purchase of art by people of color—but abandoned the plans in the face of intense opposition.
Some critics also put the onus on museum boards of directors to prioritize the acquisition of art by people of color and outreach to a more diverse community. This is largely because boards of directors, not curators or museum directors, often hold ultimate decision-making power. Furthermore, donations by board members often help fund operations, allowing dissatisfied ones to simply pull back on investments, which can thus inhibit progress.
A Prevailing Wind
Diversity and inclusion initiatives at museums have found and kept their momentum. Impact investors may add a little more wind at the back, much as when pushing for progress in other areas such as racial equity, by encouraging the art institutions most effectively moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, investors can help support the capacity of museums’ endowments to bring diverse voices to the table—and the gallery walls.