We surveyed museums from New York to Detroit to Los Angeles to get a sense of where equity initiatives stand.
Instagram statements and open letters flooded the internet in June 2020, as brands and institutions rushed to respond to the worldwide protests against police brutality spurred by the murder of George Floyd.
Museums across the U.S. publicly stated their commitments to work towards dismantling systemic racism, frequently citing intentions to listen to communities, improve hiring practices, support BIPOC staff, re-evaluate workplace culture, offer anti-racism training, and acquire and exhibit work from a more diverse range of artists.
Two years on from these calls for action, are museums feeling the same urgency? Or were these promises just platitudes?
We followed up with several museums on their grand pronouncements from 2020 to see what they’ve actually followed through on, how their plans have changed, and what still remains to be done.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The museum was criticized in June 2020 by artist Glenn Ligon for using a reproduction of his work without permission in a letter declaring the museum’s support of Black Lives Matter. Museum director Max Hollein later apologized personally to the artist. In July 2020, The Met published its 13 commitments on anti-racism.
- Assess the museum’s past and present practices
- Require annual anti-racism training for all staff, volunteers, and trustees
- Hire a chief diversity officer
- Commit to a program of hiring BIPOC candidates to department head and senior leadership roles
- Invest in recruiting, hiring, retaining and advancing BIPOC candidates and staff
- Provide ongoing resources and support for community building, staff mentoring and employee resource groups
- Further strengthen a program of exhibitions, events, and publications that addresses complex and unfamiliar narratives, cross-cultural perspectives and fosters a more diverse canon
- Diversify the collections and its narratives
- Increase the representation of BIPOC individuals on the board of trustees
- Commit to an annual diversity audit to be conducted by the CDO
Where things stand:
The Met appointed Lavita McMath as Chief Diversity Officer in November 2020 and now reports greater diversity in leadership positions, including head of the design department, the chair of the education department, and several curatorial roles in the department of Modern and contemporary Art, the American Wing, and the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing. All interns are now paid. All staff have undergone anti-racism training.
A new endowment has been created for the acquisition of work by BIPOC artists, alongside other resources. Recent works to enter the collection include those by Wangechi Mutu, Kent Monkman, Charles Alston, Elias Not Afraid, Gail Tremblay, George Morrison, Archibald Motley, Jr., and the archive of photographer James Van Der Zee.
In November 2021, the museum opened the long-term installation “Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room” featuring works by contemporary artists of color. Forthcoming shows include Hew Locke’s facade commission, a major display of Maya art, and an examination of vessels made by enslaved potters in South Carolina.