Board Diversity at Center of New Initiative for Museums

Grants totaling $4 million from three major foundations will support an American Alliance of Museums initiative to help museums build more diverse boards. The effort comes two years after an AAM study identified the problem.

In a study two years ago, nearly half of museums surveyed by the American Alliance of Museums said they had no people of color on their boards. Why? “Research suggests that lack of diversity in board composition may be a network problem,” the report said.

Now AAM is taking steps to change museum leadership with a new framework for improving board diversity at cultural institutions.

“Museum trustees and leaders can and must do more,” AAM President and CEO Laura Lott said in a news release announcing the program, titled “Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity & Inclusion.”

“Complementing the hard work and investments being made to diversify the talent pool, programming, and collections of museums, AAM aims to drive long-lasting systemic culture change,” Lott said.

The initiative has the strong support of several prominent foundations—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Alice L. Walton Foundation, and Ford Foundation—which are providing $4 million in grants to get the program off the ground.

The initiative will help solve the diversity problem by providing assistance in matching people from diverse backgrounds who want to serve on museum boards with institutions seeking new perspectives. It will also offer training on issues such as implicit bias and the need for organizational change. Meanwhile, AAM will work with 50 museums—10 in each of five different cities—to help revamp their boards.

The biggest goal will be to improve leadership engagement, “the most significant predictor of an organization’s diversity and inclusion effectiveness,” AAM said.

In comments to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Lott said that more diverse and inclusive boards will make better decisions for museums in the future.

“It is really important for the boards to have made some headway,” Lott said. “Part of a successful match will be a board that is ready to receive people that may be from outside of their current network and who have different perspectives.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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