Posted on January 9, 2023

American Museums Have Not Lived Up to Their Pledge to Diversify Collections, Study Says

Shivani Vora, Barron's, December 16, 2022


Many museums in the U.S. may have pledged to include more works from Black American and female artists in recent years, but a new report has shown they have fallen short.

The Burns Halperin Report tracks representation in U.S. art museums and the international art market and analyzes global auction results from 2008 to mid-2022.

It also looked at acquisitions—a total of almost 350,000 objects—and nearly 6,000 exhibitions from 2008 to 2020 at 31 U.S. museums, according to art journalist Charlotte Burns, who co-founded the report with outgoing Artnet News executive editor Julia Halperin.

Heavyweights such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Getty in Los Angeles are on the list, along with smaller institutions such as Perez Art Museum Miami and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

“Any perception of progress in the art world to diversify is largely a myth,” Burns explains. “In fact, change has barely begun.”

Burns says she was especially shocked to discover that just 0.5 % of museum art acquisitions were works by Black-American women, who comprise 6.6% of the U.S. population. “It’s an example of how extreme the situation is when racism and sexism intersect,” she says. “Black-American women are grossly underrepresented in museums.”

Another eyebrow-raiser is the finding that US$6.23 billion worth of Pablo Picasso works were sold at auction between 2008 and mid-2022—a bigger proportion of the auction market than all women artists combined.

Burns and Halperin found that acquisitions of work by women peaked in 2009 and picked up short-lived traction in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2016-17. Also, the Black Lives Matter movement may have been founded in 2013, but acquisitions for works by Black American artists peaked in 2015.