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Introduction to the Art Museum Unions Index

MMF’s Art Museum Unions Index is a research tool, archive in progress, and repository of collective efforts to improve and reform museum workplaces through union organizing over the decades. In keeping with MMF’s practice of foregrounding data-centered avenues to drive change, the Art Museum Unions Index tracks union-organizing campaigns and events across the sector to better contextualize the current union-organizing wave, which began in 2019, in terms of the larger history of labor and grassroots activism in US art museums. The current dataset focuses exclusively on private nonprofit art museums based in the United States. More on the current scope below.

What information is included in the Index?

The Art Museum Unions Index includes: a Key Findings section, which together with the Profile of Art Museum Unions functions as an executive summary; Spotlights that showcase trends in the data; a Union Index that features in-depth information about each museum union within the parameters of the study; and an Appendix with our sources, a glossary of terms, and a data dictionary. This Index is intended to be a living resource that will evolve in real time alongside changes in the sector and as our knowledge grows. Everything shared in this Index comes from publicly available information or data collected with permission from the individuals involved.

What is the scope of the data collected for the Index?

For the first phase of this project, we have narrowed our scope to private nonprofit art museums based in the United States. This focus, while necessary to begin to collect and analyze trends in data, is imperfect. The definitions of private, nonprofit, art, and museum are all up to a degree of subjective interpretation.1 If we are missing a union that belongs in this category, please click the COMMENT button in the bottom right corner of this webpage. Learn more about how this resource will evolve with your input under What's Next.

Key data is missing for some of the unions in our dataset, particularly those predating the ascendance of the internet. We chose to keep or remove the “unknowns” from the analysis depending on the data point, prioritizing legibility. All unknown or unverified data points are called out in individual union cards in the Union Index. Please help us fill in the blanks by submitting information via the COMMENT button.

How should the Index be used?

As a dataset responding to an ever-changing landscape and the needs of the field, we acknowledge that this data cannot and will never represent an authoritative, comprehensive source for all information on museum unions. We present this Index as an invitation for collaboration, feedback, and questions. What is missing? How does it make you feel? How does the data reflect, complicate, or conflict with your experiences? In addition to soliciting feedback, we also invite you to discuss your reactions and questions with your colleagues. All change, at the end of day, comes about when people talk to each other. We hope that this resource gives you something to talk about.

  1. ^ For example, the slippery distinction between public and private, particularly around the funding and governance of nonprofit institutions, can make it difficult to identify the employer of particular workers. (See Nizan Shaked’s Museums and Wealth: The Politics of Contemporary Art Collections [2022] for more on the subject.) Furthermore, there are vast differences in the way US labor law treats the public and private sectors. Regarding Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences, and El Museo del Barrio, we made the determination to remove them from the initial dataset based on some indication that their unionized workers were part of larger city-wide (public sector) contracts. We removed the Walters Art Museum as the institution lacked a 990 federal tax form, required for private nonprofits. We welcome your feedback and will continue to think about how to address these nuances as we expand the dataset to include more museum unions.