Following protests and civil unrest nationwide over the police killings of unarmed Black Americans, notably the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, many of the nation’s organizations looked inward to check their progress (if any) in combating racial injustice. Institutional racism has persisted in the U.S. in one form or another since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. (These are the worst cities for Black Americans.)
The nation’s art museums were no exception to this reckoning – and for obvious reasons. A visit to any major museum in the U.S. is a showcase of some of the greatest works by past and present white artists.
A major art museum with 20% of works and exhibitions featuring nonwhite artists can consider itself as having among the most diverse collections in the country. This, even though nonwhites make up nearly 39% of the national population, and in some cities like New Haven, Connecticut, and Baltimore, whites are in the minority of the local population.
To determine the most racially diverse art museums, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data from the 2019 research article “Diversity of artists in major U.S. museums” by Topaz et al., published in the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal PLOS One. Art museums were ranked based on the likelihood that two artworks in a museum picked at random would be by artists of different ethnicity. (Find out if some of these museums are among the most expensive museums in America.)
This recent reckoning has not just involved reviewing the racial makeup of the artists in museum collections and exhibits, but also examining the racial and gender profiles of boards of trustees and floor staff.
Last year, the Art Institute of Chicago took an unprecedented step of firing its entire staff of volunteer docents – most of them white women who could afford to work for free – and replaced them with a more diverse and paid staff. The High Museum in Atlanta saw the number of nonwhite visitors jump from 15% to 45% after implementing a multi-prong strategy that included diversifying its staff. This move to improve diversity in the nation’s top art museums is new and still has a long way to go.
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