Skip to content

On Diversity and Inclusion

Category: Alliance Blog
Sticky notes on a poster board used to gather feedback

Open Forum: Advancing Diversity and Inclusion within AAM and the Broader Museum CommunityI must admit: writing this blog post about AAM’s work in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion is humbling.

In spite of the fact that I grew up in an African American-majority community, attended a majority-minority high school and college, and have a wonderfully diverse group of friends, there is so much that I don’t know. I am a white woman, but until recently, I had never thought deeply about white privilege. Some of my closest friends are members of the LGBTQ community, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully grasped the discrimination they face. I didn’t know what intersectionality meant, or why it was so important. (Thank you to Museum Commons for these language primers.)

As chief of staff of the American Alliance of Museums, part of my job involves helping to move AAM’s strategic priorities forward. That includes our focus area of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. I am excited and honored to work with my AAM colleagues and our volunteer leaders on this focus area, both because of how deeply I care about human rights and equality and because of the vital importance of this work in the museum field.

But when Rob asked me write something for Alliance Labs about AAM’s next steps in diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, I felt a bit uneasy. Or rather, unsure that my voice could contribute to the existing dialogue. I’m still learning, while so many others have been fighting for equality their entire lives. On top of that, there’s the pressure of writing as a representative of one of the largest museum service organizations in the world—an organization that genuinely wants to be a good partner in this work and that wants to amplify the efforts of those who have been working hard for so long.

Skip over related stories to continue reading article

In sharing my thoughts with Laura recently, she reminded me that many museum leaders likely feel the same way. We know that we must embrace diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. Many of us are grappling with how to take the next steps. And we’re all probably a little nervous about sounding uninformed or inadvertently saying something hurtful in the process – in spite of good intentions.

But discomfort is not a reason to shy away from the conversation. And while the dialogue around diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion is certainly not a new one, we are focusing on it with a new intentionality at AAM, with the hopes of using our power and influence to help move the field forward in a meaningful way. AAM doesn’t have all the answers, but Laura has made it clear that we’re not going to wait until we do. It’s our intention to share our process with you— including our missteps, which we’re bound to have. We’re going to ask for your feedback and your criticisms, and embrace what we hear. We want to contribute to real change, and with so many thoughtful, knowledgeable, passionate activists out there (whether new to the conversation or leading the way for decades), we can do just that.

What We’ve Heard

Audience Response boards at the AAM 2016 Annual Meeting that ask questions about how museums can increase diversity among their audiences, staff, and boards. A second response board asks about how AAM can help foster innovation in the museum field.
Asking attendees about diversity and innovation at the 2016 AAM Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo

AAM’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, presented an excellent opportunity to hear from you about how to advance diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion within AAM and the broader museum community. We asked for input through several forums, including the Alliance Resource Center and the Open Forum on Diversity and Inclusion, which was organized in conjunction with several of our Professional Networks: DivCom, LGBTQ Alliance, and the Latino, Asian Pacific American, and Indigenous Peoples Museum Networks. (Special thanks to Tim Hecox, co-chair of the Diversity Committee, for approaching us with this idea and for his leadership in helping us to execute it.)

The forums asked participants to respond to questions or engage in discussion around specific topics, including:

  • How can AAM make its Diversity & Inclusion Policy actionable?
  • How can standards be changed or made measurable to hold museums accountable?
  • What types of professional development would you like to see?
  • What best practices are being demonstrated in the field?
  • Museum compensation and staffing
  • Accessibility
  • LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines (PDF)
  • Starting a diversity and inclusion plan
Attendees discuss diversity and inclusivity in museums at the Open Forum on Diversity and Inclusion at AAM's 2016 Annual Meeting.
Attendees of the Open Forum on Diversity and Inclusion discuss how museums can be more diverse in their visitors, staff, and boards

The input we collected from approximately 200 participants fell into several broad categories:

  • Model best practices: Participants noted that they would like to see AAM model best practices in our hiring/staffing practices and share our journey with the field—like our recent experiment with combating hiring bias. They also called for AAM to model best practices at the Annual Meeting with more diverse speakers/panels, accessible presentations, restroom equity, etc.
  • Support content from Professional Networks (PNs): Respondents called for AAM to support PNs in the creation of relevant content (the recent LGBTQ Welcoming Guidelines were highlighted as a strong model). It was also suggested that AAM consider establishing a PN around accessibility.
  • Develop/collect/share resources and trainings: Participants indicated a need for related resources and professional development opportunities. Ideas included: a research library, suggested readings, sample documents (e.g., D&I policies or plans, inclusive membership forms), standards/legal compliance for accessibility, museum self-assessments/organizational readiness checklists, cultural competency assessments, glossary of language usage, compensation resources, best and “next” practices, and case studies. Other suggestions included exploring the issue of pipelines for entering the museum field and helping to foster mentorship in the field, particularly for underrepresented staff.
  • Consider diversity and inclusion in standards of excellence: The field would like to see more transparency from AAM around the process for developing standards. Other ideas included: requiring a Diversity and Inclusion Plan as a core document or a part of the accreditation process, revising standards to be actionable rather than aspirational, and including the perspective of community partners during accreditation reviews.
  • Establish key partnerships: Participants suggested a number of groups/organizations, both inside (e.g., Museum Accessibility Consortium, Museums & Race, #museumworkersspeak) and outside the museum field (e.g., National Access Board, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs), with which AAM could partner to further the conversation.

What Are Our Next Steps?

From this feedback, we’ve identified a couple of immediate next steps to take:

  • Sharing Our Journey: We’ll use the Alliance Labs website to share our internal journey around the diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion focus area of AAM’s strategic plan. AAM leadership feels strongly that without pursuing change in these areas ourselves, we cannot be an effective advocate to the field. Topics for future blog posts may include: recruiting/hiring practices we are considering and experimenting with, changes we’re making to the 2017 Annual Meeting, and how we are addressing the intercultural competencies of our staff.
  • Building a Resource Page: We are currently developing a dedicated page on the AAM website that we hope will become a go-to place for related resources and trainings about these issues. We’ve chosen to make this page available, for free, to members and non-members alike. (Typically these resources – and others like them – are accessible via AAM’s Information Center and Resource Library as a membership benefit.) Initially, this page will focus on providing practical guidance through resources like sample documents and case studies demonstrating “how tos” and best/next practices.
  • Developing Competencies of AAM Staff and Volunteer Leadership: We are working to identify trainings and resources for AAM staff and volunteer leadership, with the goal of enhancing intercultural competencies and inclusiveness internally as well as equipping staff and volunteers with the knowledge and tools to feel comfortable taking leadership roles in advancing conversations externally.
  • Providing Clarity around AAM’s Excellence Programs: In an effort to increase the transparency and clarify the process for how new standards, guidelines, and best practices are identified and vetted, we will create a series of documents to form a framework for how individual members and Professional Networks can effectively engage with the documentation of standards for the field and how AAM’s staff can best steward and support those efforts.
  • Continuing the Conversation at the 2017 Annual Meeting: We are exploring ways that diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion can remain a topic at the center of each aspect of our 2017 Annual Meeting in St. Louis. Stay tuned in the following weeks for more announcements about how you can participate in this conversation at the Annual Meeting.

Of course, these are just a few first steps in what I expect will be a robust plan for AAM over the next several years. The process might feel overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean we will shrink from the need to address gaps in the museum field concerning diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. To do so, we need you to be a part of the discussion.

What are we missing as takeaways from the Annual Meeting?

What actions would you like to see the museum field take?

What parts of this are we getting right? Where could we do better?

How might we help each other to make real progress?

AAM Member-Only Content

AAM Members get exclusive access to premium digital content including:

  • Featured articles from Museum magazine
  • Access to more than 1,500 resource listings from the Resource Center
  • Tools, reports, and templates for equipping your work in museums
Log In

We're Sorry

Your current membership level does not allow you to access this content.

Upgrade Your Membership



  1. We arre a young, small, struggling art museum (no paid staff) reaching out to our community (San Francisco Bay Area) and I am attaching the handout on our Art Access program which addresses some of these issues. Ruth Waters, Founder & ExecutiveDirector,d Peninsula Museum of Art, Burlingame, CA.
    Art Access

    The Peninsula Museum of Art invites the disabled residents of Greater Bay Area communities to visit the Museum and enjoy the five exhibition galleries and 30 working artists’ studios. PMA’s special program gives physically-challenged visitors of all ages the opportunity to explore and be enriched in an open, free-to-move-about setting.

    Art Access’ docent-led tours are available for the impaired and disabled during hours that the Museum is closed to the general public (Mondays and Tuesdays).

    Tours for small groups may be arranged at other times by making a reservation for a docent ( Regular open hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 11 to 5. General admission to the Museum is always free (special event fees may vary).

    Sixteen of the Museum’s thirty art studios are on the main floor; the other fourteen are upstairs and can be toured by special arrangement (sorry, no elevator, but we do have ADA access and ADA parking).

    Directions: Peninsula Museum of Art is located at 1777 California Drive in north Burlingame (cross street: Trousdale Drive).

    From Hwy 101 North or South: Exit onto Millbrae Ave. and turn left at El Camino Real. Turn left at Trousdale (second light) and turn right into PMA parking lot.
    From Hwy 280 North or South: Exit onto Trousdale (from south, follow signs). Take Trousdale all the way down, cross El Camino Real, and turn right into the PMA parking lot.

    Information and Scheduling: 650-692-2133 (office) or

  2. This really well done, Brooke. AAM needs to help lead on this issue, and this is a really important commitment. All the best, Ford

  3. Hi, Brooke, thanks for this post, and I’m glad that the primer on Museum Commons was helpful. I attended the open forum that AAM held on diversity and inclusion, and I’m happy to see the list of actions you gathered from that meeting, e.g. I was at the standards table and so am glad to see our conversation there–that the standards for diversity ought to be more actionable than inspirational, and that they should be more core–was captured.

    I just have one question — I was wondering why AAM’s sponsorship of the Museums and Race Gathering was not mentioned. I know that AAM provided the space and a number of services to make that Gathering happen, and it seems like it should have been mentioned as one of AAM’s efforts at the annual meeting toward diversity and inclusion. You may have read the results of the survey M&R did after the Gathering, and a frequent comment was that events like the Gathering should be more clearly integrated with AAM conference. I am not writing this as a representative of M&R but solely on my own, but I know that M&R is eager to collaborate with AAM in this area.

    I look forward to learning more from this Labs initiative. Best- Gretchen Jennings

    1. Hi Gretchen,

      Thank you for reading, and for your question! The 2016 AAM Annual Meeting had a lot to offer around diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion – including about 20 sessions, demos, case studies, special guest speakers, and field trips. AAM was also very proud to support the Museums and Race Gathering that took place during the conference. We have a phone call scheduled next week with the M&R Steering Committee to talk about joint efforts for 2017.

      We hadn’t yet reported out on we heard during the Open Forum on Diversity and Inclusion or on the feedback we gathered in the Alliance Resource Center – so I chose to focus this post specifically on those two activities at the Annual Meeting. But I would love to hear from you and others about other conversations that were happening in DC (or on social media/in other forums). What were some of your takeaways from participating in M&R?


  4. I’m happy to hear that AAM plans to take a more active role in making our museums more racially diverse, inclusive, and equitable. I have a few suggestions for galvanizing this effort.
    For everyone embarking on this difficult and necessary work, engaging with the established body of scholarship on critical race theory is essential for addressing institutional racism. It would be useful to see AAM leadership mine this discourse. Perhaps future blog posts and Twitter chats could center on a particular issue, book, or article. This proposal relates to existing organizing for racial equity that other museums leaders are doing. Grassroots collectives such as the monthly Twitter chat #MuseumsRespondToFerguson led by Aleia Brown and Adrianne Russell have expertise in this work. Seeing AAM leadership regularly participating in #MuseumsRespondToFerguson and other organizing led by women of color would demonstrate that AAM is committed to supporting change. Additionally, I would love to see someone with training in both critical race theory and museum practice lead AAM’s initiatives concerning race. Addressing the history and ongoing practices of institutional racism within our museums is challenging work. By partnering with individuals who possess cultural competency, collaborative skills, and deep knowledge of the relationship of race, racism, and power, AAM will strengthen its ability to lead in concerns of race and museums. Ms. Leonard, here I recognize your interest in working with AAM colleagues and other leaders. I’d like to stress that the person or persons directing AAM’s focus in this area should have advanced training in race that includes expertise with critical race theory.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post, Ms. Autry. I appreciate your work in this area and the actionable suggestions you shared. I will be sure to include these points in discussions with my colleagues at AAM and in the field.

  5. As a long-lapsed member – and former Museum Director – I suggest AAM, American for the Arts and the rest of the arts cabal clean up their own organizations first before proselytizing on this topic. What percentage of POC are “direct-reports” or executive staff of these organizations? And I’m not referring to “community outreach” or ‘staff’ positions – since those tend to be useless and toothless positions. Chatting, blogging, and Twittering are not solutions.
    William Moreno, Los Angeles.

  6. We applaud the AAM submission of “Mining the Museum” to SxSW (, but we have to confess that it also makes us uncomfortable. We are not alone.

    Many readers will recognize Mining the Museum’s specific and powerful resonance as the name of a provocative and seminal exhibition and work of art created by Fred Wilson at the Maryland Historical Society with The Contemporary (Baltimore). There is no allusion to this in the video. Of course, these submissions have to be brief and addressed to a broad audience. But the appropriation of the title without acknowledgement of its source, an installation that remains fresh and challenging after a quarter century, seems odd, disrespectful, and a-historical.

    The a-historical aspect is a particular shame and missed opportunity. As Donald Garfield observed, among its plural meanings the title “speaks of the effect of Wilson’s approach…to enable disenfranchised communities to at last call a part of the museum ‘mine.’” This issue of diversity and inclusion remains an urgent challenge to the field. In fact, the field’s commitment to grappling with this challenge has been a driver of the greater openness the video effusively celebrates.

    Celebration is premature, however. Presentations like this do nothing to dispel the perception that AAM is tone deaf about these issues. AAM’s official diversity policy says one thing but its media posts, publicity, and choice of keynote speakers, to name a few visible areas, say something else. The field has not moved as far beyond tokenism as we like to think.

    We recommend that this episode be turned into a teaching moment. The video is posted and the selection process is underway; the program is important and deserves support. But there are several modifications that could help move the conversation forward and make it a better version of itself. Participation by more people of color would be one. Another would be to incorporate a description and explanation of Mining the Museum, not least its transformative influence on how museums understand their role in society. This would, of course, lead to a discussion of AAM’s commitment to diversity and its impact on the field.

    This is not a symbolic issue; it’s an existential one. The history of all this is not background to the story; it is the story. Museums were somewhere; now they’re trying to be somewhere else. It would be a pity if in the process of changing, museums were to forget or misunderstand or fail to express not just what they are changing from but why. It’s, as they say, who we are and what we’re here for. When we lose sight of that, the changes become mere marketing and then, when the market changes, where will we be?

    George Ciscle
    Spencer Crew
    Gretchen Jennings
    Joanne Jones-Rizzi
    Gretchen Sullivan Sorin
    Ken Yellis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Field Notes!

Packed with stories and insights for museum people, Field Notes is delivered to your inbox every Monday. Once you've completed the form below, confirm your subscription in the email sent to you.

If you are a current AAM member, please sign-up using the email address associated with your account.

Are you a museum professional?

Are you a current AAM member?

Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription, and please add to your safe sender list.