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From the President: Facing Change, Making Change

Category: Museum Magazine

Six years ago, AAM convened a group of museum leaders to answer a burning question: Why, despite decades of work from so many dedicated people, was the field still struggling to make meaningful advances in the areas of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI)? Our goal, though we knew it would take time and require trial and error, was to begin developing an actionable strategy that would make lasting systemic changes in the field at large.

The next year, we got a glimpse of what that strategy could include. Our inaugural Museum Board Leadership Report revealed that nearly half of all museum boards were 100 percent white, the vast majority of directors were dissatisfied with the current diversity of their boards, and only a small percentage had taken steps to change this. These findings convinced us that the best place to focus our efforts would be at the board level. After all, the boardroom is where values and tone are set, where culture starts, where strategic decisions are made, and where budgets and resources are allocated.

So, in 2019, AAM launched Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity and Inclusion, an unprecedented three-year initiative with funding from the Mellon, Alice L. Walton, and Ford foundations. The end goal was to work with museum boards to determine how to create more inclusive cultures and foster greater equity in their museums, creating models in the process for a range of museum types, sizes, and locations. In the fall of 2019, we began working with a cohort of 50 museums that broadly represented our field, holding a dozen retreats for more than 1,000 museum trustees and directors across the country. The work seemed difficult then, but none of us had any idea what was about to happen in 2020.

Despite everything that the next years threw at us, I’m proud to say that we persisted and achieved some amazing results. In the end, 1,400 museum leaders and trustees participated in trainings and assessments to face their unconscious bias. Nearly all of them reported increased knowledge and understanding of DEAI issues in their institutions as a result. The boards developed and are implementing measurable DEAI goals and plans, and 42 of the 50 have already added new racially and ethnically diverse candidates to their ranks—more than 120 new board members in total. Thanks to the powerful communities of practice the program built, and deep partnerships with our Senior DEAI Fellows, these leading museums and their communities will continue to progress.

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What’s next for Facing Change and our DEAI work? First, we’re sharing the resources and model plans developed as part of this program in the coming months, and we’ll continue to build on them. Thanks to the Facing Change pilot museums and a task force led by Cincinnati Museum Center President and CEO Elizabeth Pierce and Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch, we released Excellence in DEAI, a report outlining eight key indicators of excellence in museum DEAI practice. Over the next few years, we plan to embed these into our fieldwide standards and best practices, with updates to the Professional Code of Ethics, the Museum Assessment Program, and Accreditation. Together, we are changing the field. It’s certainly not happening as fast as most of us would like, and you will never hear me proclaim “mission accomplished.” But real, measurable progress takes time and thoughtfulness, and it is happening. It makes me incredibly hopeful for our collective future.


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