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Artists in museums are 85% white and 87% male–to the surprise of no one

Artists in museums are 85% white and 87% male–to the surprise of no one
[Photo: Václav Pluhař/Unsplash]

In January 2019, there was some encouraging news out of the art world: Museums were hiring more people of color. Apparently, though, whoever is filling those curator positions has their work cut out for them.

According to a recent study, 18 major U.S. museums house works from artists who are 85% white and 87% male. In terms of identifiable ethnicities, African-Americans are the least represented at just 1.2%, compared to artists of Hispanic/Latinx (2.8%) and Asian (9%) descent. The largest groups represented in terms of both gender and ethnicity are white men (75.7%), white women (10.8%), Asian men (7.5%), and Hispanic/Latinx men (2.6%).

Some of the worst offenders as it pertains to ethnic diversity are the National Gallery of Art and Detroit Institute of Arts with 97.4% and 94.7% of their works coming from white artists, respectively.

The study does indeed have limitations. For example, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has 85,000 works of art from Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Italy, and other areas, but with no identifiable artist attached to the work. Regardless, it’s clear that some work needs to be done outside of just diversifying museum staff.

“All of these diversity efforts involve programs and people rather than collections,” states the study. “If museums find knowledge of staff and visitor demographics important for programming decisions, one might ask if demographics of the artists are important for collection decisions.”

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