Museums have said time and again that they want to diversify their programs. But for a long time, progress was only measured anecdotally—an exhibition here, a press release there. That’s why, three years ago, we decided to crunch the numbers ourselves to find out exactly how much progress museums have been making in building programs that tell the stories of their own communities. In 2018, we examined the presence of African American artists in 30 US museums and the international art market over the previous decade; in 2019, we similarly examined the presence of female-identifying artists. In both cases we found that—often to their own surprise—museums were failing to meet the moment. Based on American demographics, the findings were each a fifth of what they should be.
We know our research has already helped create change; we believe it can have a much greater impact with the right expertise and support. Museums themselves do not have the capacity, expertise, or incentive to crunch these numbers consistently and consider what they mean. We are working to turn our project into an annual report and white paper, a searchable database, and an ongoing series of journalistic articles that can explore where museums are falling short in building programs that reflect their communities, where they are making progress, and what models exist for them to do better.