Is This Really Working? The Diversity Initiative

HighMuseumA great deal of my undergraduate career, but also postgraduate, has been about diversity. Whether it be the diversity in my career field, or the lack thereof, that’s what it’s all about.

However, as I grow older and start to see how these initiatives work, or don’t, it’s becoming more stifling day by day considering that institutions are rushing to diversify their museum staff. Had it not been for someone saying something, things would have more than likely continued to be the way they were – white. The tradition and history of art museums have been held up by those who’ve benefited from these efforts, and it’s mirrored across many of museums.

This generally include those in the intellectual leadership positions— educators, curators, conservators, and senior administrators. Meanwhile, the actual racial/gender/ethnic diversity lies within the facilities and security departments of those museums and it’s apparent.

But also, I’ve benefited a great deal from these initiatives and I’m honored to do so, really. However, I’m also honest enough to say that some of these diversity initiatives aren’t working. Folks are being thrown into institutions that didn’t want their able body to be there. Many of these institutions are joining the diversity party to either meet their quota or to dodge being ridiculed and judged because people in the field, and also public patrons, are aware now.

One of the defining moments of the blockbuster hit Black Panther is when the character Erik “Killmonger” Stevens examines a selection of African artifacts in the museum’s collection. Noting, at one point, that the artifact was stolen from his people and then put on display.

That moment has moved forward dialogue in the public eye about art museums and diversity.

Additionally, Casey Haughin published “Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther” in in the Hopkins Exhibitionist writing:

“However, we as museum professionals need to talk about the inclusion of this scene, especially regarding its function in a film that was cut from nearly four hours long in its first iteration to a solid two, a film that so many young people will see and one that is poised to become a cultural touchstone. The museum is presented as an illegal mechanism of colonialism, and along with that, a space which does not even welcome those whose culture it displays.”

 And of course, I agree. These diversity initiatives have to be honest and true.

In the recent news, museums like The Brooklyn Museum have faced a great deal of scrutiny following their recent appointment of two curators whom are both white, but particularly there hiring of African Art. Defending their decision, Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, assured that both candidates were highly qualified. Ironically enough, the hiring followed the release of Black Panther and its take on how museums have gotten African Art into their own possession and collections.

Moving forward, for those who are reading this and are interested in learning more about diversity in art museums, but also talent development and management, Liam Sweeney and Roger C. Schonfeld over at Ithaka S+R have published case studies about how eight art museums approach issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For the qualitative research, the following museums were surveyed: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Brooklyn Museum; Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Detroit Institute of Arts; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Spelman College Museum, Atlanta; and Studio Museum in Harlem. Of the eight, only four have been published so far. I’d advise checking out the others when they’re published later this month.

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