Pipeline for Cultivating Leadership in the Arts

My colleague, Jeremy Johnson, Executive Director of Newark Arts, recently made me aware of a wonderful initiative underway for people of color at the Newark Museum. The program was funded through the Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative (DAMLI), which was established as the result of a joint venture between the Ford Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. This program is of particular interest to me because I am passionate about the arts renaissance currently underway in Newark. In addition, my work with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) will enable me to participate in and experience first-hand the potential impact DAMLI will have on the local community. I decided to learn more.

In this era of decreased funding for culture and the arts, I was happy to learn that each foundation has committed $3 million over three years to support creative solutions to diversify curatorial and management staff at art museums across the United States so that the museums better reflect the socio-economic and racial demographics of the country, as well as the communities they serve. The DAMLI will support strategies and programs to advance diversity, including hiring professionals from under-represented populations and offering fellowships, mentorships, and other career development options.

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said the following about this joint venture: “The arts play an essential role in our society by inspiring people of all ages to dream and to imagine new possibilities for themselves, their communities, and the world. To ensure the future health and vibrancy of the arts in America, we need more arts leaders who understand and relate to the deeply varied perspectives and life experiences that weave the rich fabric of our nation,”

The Newark Museum is one of 20 programs chosen to pioneer this joint venture. The museum, which has a history of proactive engagement with the African-American community, will provide an intensive three-year program for six undergraduate students from nearby colleges from communities not traditionally represented in the ranks of museum leadership. According to the museum’s news release about the program, the students will be provided with “essential professional resources and knowledge that will help them overcome financial, educational, experiential and cultural barriers that might stand in the way of building careers as museum leaders.” The Newark Museum has set as its goal the employment of six participants in the museum field or enrolled in a museum-related graduate program by the end of the project in June 2021.

After finding out about the Newark Museum program, I decided to learn more about the DAMLI and the other institutions that received grants. I was delighted to discover that of the 20, 18 are based at urban-area museums across the country, and include two at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The urban-area recipients and their planned activities are:

  • Andy Warhol Museum, in Pittsburgh, PA, for a multi-tiered pipeline project including a youth outreach program, internships, and alumni and mentoring programs.
  • Oakland Museum of California, in Oakland, CA, to support a three-year summer internship, cohort-learning, and leadership development program for undergraduate and graduate level students.
  • Phoenix Art Museum, in Phoenix, AZ, for an annual teen art council, internships for undergraduate and graduate students, and curatorial fellowships focused on Latinx art.
  • Saint Louis Art Museum, in St. Louis, MO, to sustain, evaluate, and disseminate lessons from its Romare Bearden Minority Museum Fellowship program.
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem, in New York, NY, for high school, college, and graduate internships, trainings for museum educators, professional development, and a curatorial fellowships partnership with the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, in Seattle, WA, for professional development for the museum’s junior staff, paid internships for high school and college students, and a young artist development program.

I wholeheartedly agree with what philanthropist Alice Walton, founder and board chair of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, said about this initiative: “For museums to be truly inviting public spaces, they must better reflect the communities they serve. Achieving diversity requires a deeper commitment: To hire and nurture leaders from all backgrounds. This initiative creates the opportunity for museums to build a more inclusive culture within their institutions.” I am happy to learn that the Walton Family Foundation and the Ford Foundation are stepping up to the plate and taking the lead in this endeavor.