Art is a vanguard industry that takes pride in its role to represent progressive ideology and risk-taking, yet the management lacks the representation from different life experiences that are a vital part of the arts’ dynamism. In 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation issued a report on diversity in art museums that reinforced what is obvious to anyone working in or affiliated with the industry: Non-Hispanic white men dominate leadership positions in art institutions. That says nothing of the lack of ethnic, religious, disability, sexual orientation, or geographic diversity at the executive levels or in the board rooms. The survey catalyzed a major movement toward a more diversified art and museum world, and the Phillips Collection is a pioneer of that change.
Responding to the urgency of these challenges, I made it my personal responsibility to secure major funding that allowed us to demonstrate institutional commitment to full inclusion at every level. We have appointed a new chief diversity officer, Makeba Clay , as part of our senior leadership team. Clay is among the first chief diversity officers appointed to an art museum and, in her lead role, she will guide the Phillips forward in pursuit of our mission to serve a multiplicity of artists and audiences. We will establish paid internships and fellowships to help eliminate barriers to entry into the field, and provide a new cadre of young people with the training and skills to establish credentials. Further, we have actively restructured our recruiting practices for staff hires and trustees to create a more diverse pipeline of candidates and board members.
The Phillips Collection is striving to create an environment in which stories of diverse audiences are shared. To achieve this goal, we are working to remove the barriers that have historically stood in the way of a truly diverse and inclusive art community. Since 2013, the Phillips Collection has formalized a philosophy to acquire works by largely underrepresented groups — including women, minorities and members of the LGBTQ community. A more diverse collection enhances our capabilities to tell more stories representative of our audience. We recognize this goes beyond an institution’s walls, and that the success of this is also rooted in our ability to forge deep and lasting partnerships with external partners.
Creating an inclusive workforce enables us to access a greater pool of talent. We will tap into new creativity, enhance employee engagement, inspire the next generation of visionaries and ultimately strengthen our artistic ecosystem. For the Phillips, this means relevant programming, sustainable partnerships and a better experience for visitors.
In this particular moment, when the world feels more divided than ever, systemic and persistent inequities and tensions highlight a need to respond, as King said, with “the fierce urgency of now.” In the arts world, fellow institutions such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture , the Museum of Latin American Art , the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., represent strong commitment to progress. However, we cannot let our successes cloud our vision of the challenges that remain.
It is increasingly important that museums provide a space where people can connect to one another across perspectives and experiences, and relate to their communities’ institutions in multiple facets. It is precisely in this atmosphere that the Phillips is committed to serving our current and future audiences, cultivating diverse artists and arts managers and incubating creativity and creation. Our goal is to initiate the transformation of the the arts industry in Washington so that it represents the true nature of the city. We challenge other art institutions to commit to opening up the doors to all and encouraging the next generation to pursue the arts.
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