Art of Inclusion Networking Event; 26 July 2018; Target Wing Reception Hall

Art museums have struggled to diversify—what will it take to change that?

Competing for jobs is tough, time-consuming, and an emotional rollercoaster. It can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude when you work hard at it but still run into barriers and rejections. I was recently in that position myself—once again—and now it’s what I think about every day as Mia’s first Diversity and Inclusion Manager.

In 2017, Mia was awarded a major grant from the Ford Foundation and Walton Family Foundation to support its Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Initiative, which aims to diversify the museum’s leadership and generally ensure the museum is an accessible and inclusive place. Art museums have historically struggled to diversify their ranks, especially at the leadership level, and these foundations are directly addressing the issue with their Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative. They cite a 2015 study that found only 16 percent of art museum leadership positions were held by people of Asian, black, Hispanic, or multi-racial backgrounds, despite comprising 38 percent of the United States population.

My first priority at Mia has been to develop a fellowship program, targeted toward people of color and indigenous people, and select three fellows each year. These year-long positions should strengthen the pipeline to leadership roles. The fellows will build a network with museum colleagues and related organizations while working with each other on a project that engages audiences, sparks wonder, and meaningfully contributes to the work of the museum.

We’re hoping to attract people of color and indigenous people to other positions, as well, which made me wonder how we could avoid the culture of rejection that is so discouraging to job-seekers. Though we can only select three fellows each year, can we maintain a relationship with all of the candidates, so we’re in alignment when other positions open up?

Creating a new recruitment culture

To recruit by building relationships is to create a soft landing for applicants. Many hours were spent with the fellowship candidates in informal interviews, talking about the fellowship program and discussing other opportunities at Mia now and in the future. All candidates were invited to both apply for the fellowship and to stay in relationship with Mia—and the tools to do so were provided.

In the first of what I hope will be several events, all of the candidates were invited to a “speed” interviewing and networking event. While one group was interviewing for a fellowship position, another group was talking with Mia hiring managers and the museum’s director, Kaywin Feldman, about the history and purpose of Mia, so that the candidates came away with many potential inroads to Mia.

The soft landing was created, and many candidates have already taken advantage of it, inquiring about future opportunities. The fellowship, in other words, is not the end in itself. There are ripple effects across the museum.

Of course, just hiring a diverse staff is not enough. Mia is also examining its practices around hiring, retention, ongoing learning, and truly creating a welcoming and intentionally inclusive environment.

Mia is not alone on this journey of cultural fluency. Resources such as the American Alliance of Museums’ report Facing Change: A New Report for the American Alliance of Museums’ Working Group on DEAIareuseful guides for building sustainable equity and inclusion. As we move forward with our Art of Inclusion Fellowship Program, including the selection of the first year’s fellows and creating a positive and empowering experience, we will see how far our ripples extend, knowing that diversifying an art museum is in fact an art.

Top image: Mia’s Art of Inclusion networking event, held July 26, 2018, in the Target Wing Reception Hall.