A Survey Looking at Diversity of Artists in Major U.S. Museums

On February 11th, the Public Library of Science’s website published a survey, “Diversity of Artists in Major US Museums.” In the survey’s abstract, the six authors summarize their work:

“The U.S. art museum sector is grappling with diversity. While previous work has investigated the demographic diversity of museum staffs and visitors, the diversity of artists in their collections has remained unreported. We conduct the first large-scale study of artist diversity in museums. By scraping the public online catalogs of 18 major U.S. museums, deploying a sample of 10,000 artist records comprising over 9,000 unique artists to crowdsourcing, and analyzing 45,000 responses, we infer artist genders, ethnicities, geographic origins, and birth decades.”

The 18 museums surveyed were:

  • Detroit Institute of Arts
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
  • Yale University Art Gallery
  • Dallas Museum of Art
  • Denver Art Museum
  • High Museum of Art
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Whitney Museum of American Art.

The survey delivered two unsurprising, but still disappointing statistics:

In the 18 museums surveyed,

85% of artists represented in the museums’ collection are white

87% of artists represented in the museums’ collection are male.

The survey has its limitations. It samples just 18 museums and looks at their online public catalogs. The researchers are limited by each museum’s categorizing and curatorial systems. Although not perfect, Marabou considers this survey an important beginning of digging deeper into issues of representation in museum collections. As social justice initiatives move forward in the museum world, statistics like this quantify the space dedicated to white, male artists in museum collections, and justify the need to actively make space for those whose work and stories have been historically ignored or neglected within museums and cultural spaces.

If you want further reading, Eileen Kinsella writes and nice summary of the report in her February 19th article for Artnet.

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