New research reveals an estimated 85% of artists in US museum collections are white

20 February 2019

Metropolitan Museum of Art, photography by Alex Proimos

The push for diversity has been increasingly part of the cultural conversation over the past few years – and with good reason. The diversity of artists – referring to artists of colour, from LGBTQ+ communities, from a range of ages, and those with a disability – has been paltry in cultural institutions across the board. It’s one of the reasons that activism in the arts via projects such as The White Pube have gained visibility, and campaigns amplifying the work of communities of colour are slowly but surely making headway. But how do these artists make sure they become embedded into institutions long-term?

Certainly, the UK climate leaves much to be desired – an annual statistical report published last week by Arts Council England (ACE) covered 663 arts organisations and 21 museums and showed overall that many organisation were “treading water”, as ACE chair Nicholas Serota put it, and “slow progress in representation of people from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, and barely any progress in the area of disabled employees”.

It’s a grim outlook made even grimmer by the news today that an estimated 85% of artists in US museum collections are white. Researchers examining more than 40,000 artworks in the collections of 18 museums across the US, including MOMA, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Met and Whitney Museum in New York, estimate that 85% of artists represented in these collections are white and 87% are men.

Speaking to ArtNet news, researcher Chad Topaz says: “We’re aware of the important conversations about diversity and inclusion in the art world that have been happening for decades and have been highlighted by the Guerilla Girls since 1985. Our own work strives to provide some empirical data in order to contribute to the national and international dialogue taking place.”

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Kieran Yates

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