Facing Change: Insights from AAM’s DEAI Working Group

Cover Image and page six of the report. Image of an african american man looking into the eyes of a woman with the words "Facing Change" between them.

Download the AAM DEAI Working Group Full Report 2018 now!


A woman smiles at the camera with her head tiled slightly with long dark colored hair in braids wearing dangling earrings and a striped white and black top.
Nicole Ivy, Director of Inclusion, AAM

Today, the country’s museums are increasingly taking up the charge to be more inclusive. Museum workers, directors, and trustees are reflecting on the historical inequalities that have shaped the field. Employment pipeline programs and leadership development initiatives are helping to address long-standing barriers to entry.

This ongoing effort to increase diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion in museums isn’t new, but it does reflect what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described in 1963 as the “fierce urgency of now.” The work doesn’t begin “out there,” in some space external to museum staffs, directors, and boards. Nor does it hinge solely on outreach to underserved populations. Effective inclusion work begins inside the structures of our museums and within each of us.

In spring 2017, following its strategic plan, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) convened the Working Group on Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI). Twenty museum professionals, representing a variety of disciplines, organizational sizes and types, and perspectives, came together monthly at the Alliance’s offices in Arlington, Virginia, and once at the 2017 AAM Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. For six months, this group examined the characteristics of effective museum inclusion practices and considered what steps the field could take to promote DEAI.

Cochaired by Alliance President and CEO Laura Lott and lifelong DEAI leader Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the working group’s charge was to:

  • identify current DEAI activities in the field
  • understand key challenges, issues, and opportunities related to promoting DEAI
  • learn from how other sectors have successfully overcome DEAI challenges
  • identify steps that museum professional scan take to advance DEAI
  • outline opportunities for collaboration and further work

Through our work, we reaffirmed the relevance of DEAI within the entire museum field. We believe that those who have historically been relegated to the margins of society due to legacies of racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, xenophobia, and all other forms of injustice must be fully included in museum workplaces and communities. The insights shared in this report apply to museums across the spectrum. Diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion are as important for large institutions with scores of people on staff as they are for small museums run by volunteers.

At the 2016 AAM Annual Meeting, Laura Lott asked audiences, “How will history judge our efforts—both as individuals and museums? Will we be urgent and proactive players to correct our society’s inequities?” To these timely inquiries, the working group adds others: Whose perspectives are missing? How do we move from focusing on DEAI to removing oppression and reducing harm? How do we ensure that museums remain financially sustainable while working to become welcoming and safe for all?

As you read the sections that follow and continue the conversation in your own museum, I hope that you will let these prompts guide your reflections. No one person has all the answers, but the future of museums depends on our collective willingness to address the questions.

Download the AAM DEAI Working Group Full Report 2018 now!

What’s in the Report

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