Alice L. Walton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Pilot House Philanthropy Announce Investments for More Diverse Leadership in Art Museums

Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Alice L. Walton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Pilot House Philanthropy Announce Investments for More Diverse Leadership in Art Museums

Four national funding partners, Alice L. Walton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and Pilot House Philanthropy announced the Leadership in Art Museums (LAM) initiative. Over the next five years, the LAM funders will commit over $11M in funding to museums to increase racial equity in leadership roles such as curators, conservators, collections managers, community engagement staff, educators and other senior leaders in a manner designed to advance racial equity.

As platforms for civic engagement, museums are vital public spaces. Intended to serve the communities around them, they play a critical role in fostering dialogue, creative expression, and community engagement and fortifying democratic principles. Museum leaders—from curators to board members—play a key role in determining the art on display in these cultural institutions. A 2019 study found that only 1.2% of works in all major U.S. museums were created by Black artists, with 9% for Asian artists and only 2.8% for Hispanic and Latinx artists. 

With an expanded group of funding partners, LAM will build on past and existing efforts to create more racial equity in leadership roles across the art museum field. In addition to welcoming new partners—Pilot House Philanthropy and the Mellon Foundation—LAM is bolstered by the learnings from and impact of recent key initiatives; these include the Diversifying Art Museum Leadership project, the recently created Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums, and related initiatives like the Mellon Foundation’s ongoing Art Museum Staff Demographic Survey to increase diversity in museums. Mellon’s recent research and surveys found significant underrepresentation of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other people of color in institutional leadership positions. For example: only 20% of museum leadership and 20% of conservation staff identified as non-white. While hiring trends from 2021 and 2022 show slow and steady progress, leadership museum roles are still overwhelmingly held by white staff. 

“Ultimately, the future of museums depends on their ability to stay relevant and serve their communities,” said Alice Walton, philanthropist and founder of Alice L. Walton Foundation. “The LAM museums represent a variety of regions across the U.S., and help ensure that we’re increasing access to museum roles in a way that’s inclusive of communities of color, no matter where the art institution is based. With this dedicated group of funding partners, we’re united in our commitment to achieve long-lasting impact.”

“If we want the arts in this country to stay vibrant, moving, and transformational, it’s imperative that these institutions bring in more diverse perspectives and lived experiences,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “Leadership in Arts Museum’s vision is to grow and invest in diverse leadership at U.S. art museums to ensure their excellence and relevance in the future.” 

A competitive and thorough selection process identified 19 museums across the country for LAM grants to create and sustain new leadership positions. The museums have pledged to make these permanent. In hiring for these positions, the museums also pledge to develop a diverse pool of applicants in a manner that is inclusive of communities of color, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Arab, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities.

“Some of our proudest work recognizes and elevates the role of arts and culture within Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities to heal, protect, and restore mental and physical health—not only at the individual level, but also at the community and systems level,” said Joël Barraquiel Tan, executive director at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum. “With this additional support, we can bring in more staff, develop programming in a vibrant, holistic model, and provide training for emerging staff and interns that advances our internal culture of health and wellbeing.”

“Our new Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole curator position, named in honor of the Jacksonville native and internationally regarded educator, scholar, and cultural leader, will help us realize Ninah Cummer’s vision that the museum be a center of beauty for all,” said Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., director and CEO at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens in Florida. “With the LAM support, we are on course to expand our audiences and invite more visitors to explore and engage with our collections, gardens, and programs."

The LAM recipients are diverse institutions with local and national impact spanning geography, size, and cultural focus. As a shared goal, they are fully committed to developing and nurturing museums’ leadership roles that will demonstrate and create a more inclusive art world.

The full list of LAM-funded museums follows below.

State University Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, Michigan

MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts

McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas

Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi

Museum of the City of New York, New York, New York

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Illinois

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

The Newark Museum of Art, Newark, New Jersey

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California

Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

Perez Art Museum Miami, Florida

Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, California

Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, Seattle, Washington

Image : Perez Art Museum, Miami Florida


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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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