Research Article: Diversity of artists in major U.S. museums

Date Published: March 20, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Chad M. Topaz, Bernhard Klingenberg, Daniel Turek, Brianna Heggeseth, Pamela E. Harris, Julie C. Blackwood, C. Ondine Chavoya, Steven Nelson, Kevin M. Murphy, Christopher M. Danforth.


The U.S. art museum sector is grappling with diversity. While previous work has investigated the demographic diversity of museum staffs and visitors, the diversity of artists in their collections has remained unreported. We conduct the first large-scale study of artist diversity in museums. By scraping the public online catalogs of 18 major U.S. museums, deploying a sample of 10,000 artist records comprising over 9,000 unique artists to crowdsourcing, and analyzing 45,000 responses, we infer artist genders, ethnicities, geographic origins, and birth decades. Our results are threefold. First, we provide estimates of gender and ethnic diversity at each museum, and overall, we find that 85% of artists are white and 87% are men. Second, we identify museums that are outliers, having significantly higher or lower representation of certain demographic groups than the rest of the pool. Third, we find that the relationship between museum collection mission and artist diversity is weak, suggesting that a museum wishing to increase diversity might do so without changing its emphases on specific time periods and regions. Our methodology can be used to broadly and efficiently assess diversity in other fields.

Partial Text

Historically, the artists represented in U.S. art museums have been predominantly male and caucasian. In partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) found that 72% of staff at its member institutions identify as white [1]. This same study found that 60% of museum staff are women, though only 43% of directorships are held by women, indicating a gender gap at the highest levels of leadership [2]. The availability of demographic data has prompted parts of the museum sector to think more intentionally about diversity and inclusion not just amongst staff, but also visitorship. For example, the AAMD has tracked museums’ efforts to engage with audiences previously neglected by outreach and education programs, and has helped museums to analyze the geography of visitor origination [3].

The artist dataset described above can be accessed and explored online via a web app [31]. Our analysis can be reproduced via R code in a GitHub repository [39].

We studied 10,108 individual, identifiable artist records from 18 museums. By combining crowdsourced data, including confidence ratings, we inferred gender, ethnicity, geographic origin, and birth decade for 89%, 82%, 83%, and 79% of these individuals, respectively. Restricting our attention to individual, identifiable artists, we found that the artists whose works are held in mainstream U.S. museums are predominantly white men, who comprise 75.7% of all artists in our pool. We also found that museums with similar foci on time periods and geographic regions can have quite different levels of artist diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity.




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