In April 2018, Ellen Stofan became the first female Director of the Washington DC National Air and Space Museum since its opening in 1976. It is not the only American museum that finally opened its doors to diversity. Is the cultural power of American institutions shifting?
The recent appointments of women to the main American museums leadership
The historical nomination of Ellen Stofan in Washington DC is part of a series of unprecedented changes in the major American cultural institutions. In fact, Carrie Rebora is the head of the New York Botanical Garden and Sarah Moon Chapotin was just appointed to be the new Director of the United States Botanic Garden. Anne Pasternak, head of the Brooklyn Museum, has an innovative and proactive policy in favor of the museum’s collection diversity despite the recent scandal of the new Curator of the African-American Art department. According to Joan H Baldwin, co-author of the book “Women in museums: lessons from the workplace”, “we have benefited from the tidal wave of post-Weinstein issues to look at the museum world’s sexual harassment in the workplace and gender inequality.”
93% of white, 38% of men and 55 years-old on average
Despite the recent changes, the biggest institutions in the country remain mostly dominated by white men. In fact, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has once again appointed a male Director. Max Hollein, whom Art-Trope talked about, is the 10th one. Indeed, the Getty, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick Collection and the National Gallery of Art are still headed by white men. According to the 2018 report of the Gender Equity in Museums Movement about the government funded museums, 30 men are Directors for only 14 women. Also, according to the American Alliance of Museums CEO Laura Lott, a recent study shows that as for the top ranked positions within the museums’ boards, 93% are filled by white people, 38% of which are men with an average age of 55 years-old. Only 10% did take measures in favor of a policy favoring diversity.
The reasons of the slow evolution of diversity in museums
Multiple factors play a role in the absence of diversity in museums. First of all, the gender salary gap between men and women filling the same positions in museums reaches 20%. Anne Ackerson, member of the Gender Equity Museums Movement explains that “women in museums don’t even realize they’re getting 20% less.” As a result, the more the budget of an institution is, the more likely men fill in leadership positions. On the contrary, one can find more women in non-profit organizations. Moreover, the low salaries of the museums’ staff do not encourage diversity. In addition, the cost of college education specialized in museums’ jobs is significantly costly in the United States. It has a negative impact on diversity. Nevertheless, some personalities took important measures. It is the case of Kim Sajet, first female Director of the National Portrait Gallery. In 2013, when she was appointed, the museum’s board was composed of 70% of men. Today, it is the opposite.
Read our article about legendary couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Centre Pompidou Metz here.
Source: The Guardian