Art museums have experienced unprecedented strain and scrutiny in recent years. They have been called to reorient attention and resources toward diversity and equity, and museum workers have been calling for institutional interest in “social justice,” increasingly explored in museum programming, to be matched with commitments to changing internal practices and cultural legacies that prevent workers from doing their best work. Simply put, it is not enough to diversify the artists we are collecting or exhibiting; we must take better care of our people too. Ongoing union negotiations and social-media outcries have made clear that the needs of workers are not being met. And, of course, the pandemic made a challenging situation even more dire, as the inequities have become ever more impossible to ignore.
So, here we are in 2023, with the first cycle of MMF’s study on workplace equity and organizational culture in US art museums. We can now look at hard data to see what is really happening inside our workplaces vis-à-vis equity. Below are the key findings:
- While 82% of art museum workers believe they are doing meaningful work, feeling genuine connections with coworkers and day-to-day enjoyment of their jobs, they are more dissatisfied than US workers overall.
- 60% of art museum workers are thinking about leaving their jobs, and 68% are considering leaving the field altogether. Major sources of dissatisfaction cited are low pay, burnout, and lack of opportunities for growth or career advancement.
- 74% of workers cannot always pay their basic living expenses with their museum compensation alone, including 29% of executives. This means significant portions of the workforce cannot afford to work in art museums if they cannot subsidize their pay through other sources (e.g., generational wealth, a partner to share expenses with, etc.).
- The path to promotion and seniority is long and uncertain, with an average tenure of twelve years in an institution before a promotion.
- Art museum workplaces are overwhelmingly white. However, entry-level workers are the most diverse by every measure, and there is growing racial diversity in executive leadership.
- White workers are having an easier time and more favorable careers than anyone else in art museums.
- More than a quarter of art museum workers have experienced discrimination at their current workplaces. A crisis in the systems of accountability is made evident by the fact that only half of workers reporting these experiences because they feel nothing will be done about them—a pattern consistent through every level of seniority.
Taken together, these findings reveal that art museums have ample ways to improve their workplaces and take better care of their workers as part of their commitments to equity and diversity. The vast majority of workers come into this field with passion and purpose, and we must give them opportunities to learn and grow into future museum leaders. The time is now.