New York’s Museums are Failing on Diversity, Study Finds

The cultural sector is twice as white as the city

Jan van Raay, Faith Ringgold (right) and Michele Wallace (middle) at Art Workers Coalition Protest, Whitney Museum, 1971. Courtesy the artist, Portland, OR, 305-37. © Jan van Raay.

Jan van Raay, Faith Ringgold (right) and Michele Wallace (middle) at Art Workers Coalition Protest, Whitney Museum, 1971. Courtesy the artist, Portland, OR, 305-37. © Jan van Raay.

The staff at New York cultural organizations are not reflective of the demographics of the city, a new report has found. Two thirds of the cultural workforce is white, twice the percentage of the city’s white population. Hispanic, African American and Asian communities, meanwhile, are underrepresented.

The study, conducted by the Southern Methodist University and published on 29 July, surveyed almost 7,000 individuals working at 65 arts and cultural organizations in the city, including large institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum as well as smaller organizations, such as the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Participants to the survey were asked questions about their heritage, gender, sexual orientation and age.

The results showed a significant underrepresentation of Black, Asian and Hispanic people. While the former makes up 22% of the population of New York City, they represent just 10% of workers in the cultural sector. The same was true of Asian and Hispanic people, who make up 14% and 29% of the city population respectively but just 6% and 11% of surveyed respondents. Racial inequality in the arts is underscored by an economic imbalance: traditionally higher-salaried editorial, curatorial, board and executive leadership positions are predominately held by whites (85%, 75%, 70% and 68% respectively), while generally lower-paying positions, such as security and retail/merchandise, were more likely to be occupied by people of colour.

Other historically marginalized groups fared better, however: 65% of the city’s arts jobs are held by women, who constitute 52% of the population. Disabled and LGBTQ people are also overrepresented, at 8% compared to 4%, and 15% compared to 4%, respectively. Again, however, these figures belie the types of roles held by each group: while LGBTQ people represent 15% of the general cultural workforce, only 9% hold board positions. Disabled employees represent just 2% of editorial staffers, for instance, while 15% work in retail/merchandise.

‘The data we gather will help us design programs to support NYC’s arts and cultural institutions in their ongoing efforts to create opportunities for all New Yorkers,’ New York City Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl said in a statement to Hyperallergic. Although it is unclear what these programs will entail, the report comes at a time of increased pressure for cultural organizations to become more diverse and inclusive. In February, a Williams College study found that 85% of artists in US museum collections are white and 87% are male. The findings are also part of a global trend: in London a report published in July found that young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are being shunned by the creative sector.

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