Museum Group Launches Plan to Bring DEI to Accreditation

The three-year initiative marks the American Alliance of Museums' first major update to its standards in 20 years, designed to help institutions better engage with their communities.

The American Alliance of Museums has launched a three-year initiative to update its DEI standards, which includes plans to update its accreditation process for member museums.  

The initiative, announced last month, is a direct outcome of a report from AAM’s DEAI (diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion) task force released in August. “Given that DEAI work must be a focused and intentional effort that weaves throughout different levels and departments within a museum, so too should it be throughout accreditation,” said the report

“The core issue is about museums being more integral and reflective parts of their communities,” said AAM CEO Laura Lott. “There’s been a movement over decades to take museums from being academic places, and therefore less inclusive of the communities in which they live, and toward being more welcoming and better serving them.”

AAM’s work is supported by a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency. But Lott said the effort is also in line with AAM’s newly adopted three-year strategic plan, along with the DEAI work the association has taken on in recent years, which is designed to address issues from entrance fees to community engagement to the makeup of boards. 

The core issue is about museums being more integral and reflective parts of their communities.

Laura Lott, American Alliance of Museums

The goal of the process will be an update to its documented museum standards, its first major overhaul in 20 years. “The process that museums go through to show that they’re abiding by the standards has evolved with technology, but the actual substance of the standards has been pretty much the same for the last couple of decades,” Lott said.

Through that process, Lott said, AAM will develop more specificity around accreditation guidelines. “Our standards do include allusions to DEAI, but it’s very broad and so it’s hard to enforce—it’s hard to know what’s expected of a museum,” she said. “This project is a lot about making it much more precise, much more specific, so that they know what they’re being held accountable for, and what they’re holding each other accountable for.”

A variety of stakeholders will be participating in the initiative, including AAM’s staff, board, accreditation commission, DEAI task force and working group, and more. Though that’s a lot of people, Lott said that including a host of participants in its conversations since 2016—when AAM formally adopted DEAI guidelines—has led to a better process and helped encourage member support of the new initiative. 

“There’s been a lot of interviewing, formally and informally, in the museum field,” she said. “We do a lot of roundtables and discussions. At our conference or in between conferences, we’ll pull different groups of people together… AAM doesn’t stand on a hill and say, ‘These are the standards that museums must abide by.’ It’s a voluntary process, and therefore the museum’s program, the museum’s standards. AAM administers it, and nudges it along in certain directions. But it’s all about bringing people together to come to some consensus on these things.”

(Vadim Sazhniev/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!