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In 2022, ArtReview ranked “unions” third in their annual Power 100 list of “the most influential people in art.”2 Perhaps this is unsurprising to anyone paying attention to art news: by our count, workers at private nonprofit art museums in the United States have formed X new unions since January 2019—more than in all previous years combined. On their list of “Art Stories That Defined 2022,” Hyperallergic called the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s nineteen-day strike the “longest and most consequential museum labor strikes in recent history.” 3

Much has been written and studied about the cyclical insurgencies of and backlash against organized labor in the US, specifically on the museum sector. Of the many movements happening within and around museums in the past few years, union organizing and labor issues come up again and again.4 At a scale and speed never before seen in the field, workers are organizing around all of the issues that surfaced in MMF’s 2023 Data Study Report5: low pay, lack of promotional opportunities, discrimination, and the chasm between the folks with structural power and those without—all of which reveals a profound misalignment between museums’ stated missions of serving the public good and their daily operations. The museum union-organizing movement also reveals a shift in how workers see themselves and understand their collective power to change their workplaces.6 In these intersecting conditions, we believe that understanding the broader context of the “museum union wave”7 allows us to expand our imaginations and consider new solutions to the seemingly intractable inequities and injustices in our field.

In that spirit, MMF’s Publications & Events Manager (and former AFSCME organizer) Liz Levine teamed up with fellow museum equity researcher (and former worker-organizer at MASS MoCA, UAW Local 2110) Amanda Tobin Ripley to create the Art Museum Unions Index. This project builds on and is indebted to the organizers, cultural workers, activists, and researchers who have contributed to a growing collection of online resources—often, ironically, through hours of dedicated but unpaid labor. In this work, we endeavor to balance two sometimes conflicting needs: to model the work of transparency we call for from our institutions and to use discretion to mitigate the risks inherent to any labor action in the United States. Please visit the Appendix for more information on our sources and other resources. As always, we welcome your feedback.