Museums Working to Increase the Number of Black Curators.

    Museums are making efforts to create diversity in curators at their institutions. The diversity was hindered by the insular nature of many museums of unpaid internships that prevented many ethnic minority students.from acquiring skills that would help them advance through the ranks. Not surprisingly, most museum boards are majority white

    From the NYT today addressing increasing numbers of minority curators.

    Museums have tended to explain away their lack of diversity by bemoaning a scarcity of qualified curators. But art professionals say museums just have to look a little harder for help — perhaps to Spelman College’s new Curatorial Studies Program or the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Teen Curators program. “We go to state schools to get them,” Elizabeth W. Easton, director of the Center for Curatorial Leadership in New York City, said of young job candidates. “When people say it’s so impossible, that isn’t true.”

    People of color have had difficulty entering the pipeline, facing barriers that include exclusion from informal mentoring networks, resistance to alternative perspectives on art history, and financial hurdles: many entry-level internships are unpaid.

    “I had to turn down a curatorial assistant offer at the Guggenheim in 1999 because of how little the pay was,” said Christine Y. Kim, now an associate curator of contemporary art at Lacma. “For many marginalized young people interested in art, museums still represent authority, whiteness and power — places where we do not belong.”

    Several institutions are trying to address the compensation issues. Lacma, for example, recently selected two college graduates for a new paid fellowship, and teamed up with Arizona State University for a three-year program that combines academic training and work experience to develop a diverse pool of curators, directors and other museum professionals.


    NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to make change by linking museum funding to staff diversity

    The National Museum of African American History & Culture drew a great deal of interest when it opened. Hopefully, as displays at local museums becomes more diverse, we will see an increase in attendance by minority groups.


    This does not have anything to do with the subject of this blog post but I could think of no better way to communicate a message to you.  I was wondering if you have read or come across a couple of titles addressing the work of the Kerner Commission, including the highly publicized report it issued in March 1968?  These are Separate and Unequal, by Steven Gillon, which I've just begun, and Robert Shellow's The Harvest of American Racism: The Political Meaning of Violence in the Summer of 1967.  

    Re the latter, I came across the following description:

    In the summer of 1967, in response to violent demonstrations that rocked 164 U.S. cities, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, a.k.a. the Kerner Commission, was formed. The Commission sought reasons for the disturbances, including the role that law enforcement played. Chief among its research projects was a study of 23 American cities, headed by social psychologist Robert Shellow. An early draft of the scientists’ analysis, titled “The Harvest of American Racism: The Political Meaning of Violence in the Summer of 1967,” provoked the Commission’s staff in November 1967 by uncovering political causes for the unrest; the team of researchers was fired, and the controversial report remained buried at the LBJ Presidential Library until now.

    The first publication of the Harvest report half a century later reveals that many of the issues it describes are still with us, including how cities might more effectively and humanely react to groups and communities in protest. In addition to the complete text of the suppressed Harvest report, the book includes an introduction by Robert Shellow that provides useful historical context; personal recollections from four of the report’s surviving social scientists, Robert Shellow, David Boesel, Gary T. Marx, and David O. Sears; and an appendix outlining the differences between the unpublished Harvest analysis and the well-known Kerner Commission Report that followed it.

    The Kerner Commission report was issued by a mainstream group appointed by Johnson on the (badly wrong, as it turned out) assumption its report would provide him with political support (here drawing pretty much verbatim from from Gillon, page xi of the introduction).  2 of the 11 members were black.  There were no radicals or young people and no spokesperson for the black nationalist movement; Former NYC mayor John Lindsay, the vice chairman, played a key role.  Apparently, although the Commission in Gillon's view managed to speak with one voice and the report was adopted unanimously, there was substantial disagreement both among its members, and between its members and the younger field team members it hired to do background research, many of whom Gillon asserts had been radicalized by their service in the Peace Corps or their time spent in the civil rights movement in the South.      

    Gillon's interpretation is that the Kerner Commission report pushed mainstream liberalism to its limits.  The Vietnam War was chewing up large amounts of public resources as well as political attention.  Congress was unwilling to allocate funding Johnson had sought for his Great Society and War on Poverty domestic initiatives absent spending cuts.  There was never a chance in that context that the Commission's ambitious federal proposals were going to be funded, even to a significant degree.   

    The report was criticized from both the left and the right.

    In attributing the cause of urban riots to the denial of opportunity to blacks living in poor urban areas by white society, it was about as pointed a prominent public document wading into these waters as I am aware of in our country's history. 

    From the right, the fears of many Americans generated by the unrest were apparently based on more than exaggerated or hysterical media-generated perceptions.  There was a 73 percent increase in reported property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft) between 1960 and 1967 and a doubling of the rate of reported violent crime (murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault) during that time period.  Between 1965 and 1969, the reported crime rate increased by double digits every year.  The crime rate grew fastest in rural areas and small towns.  Nixon and the Republicans, written off after Goldwater's 1964 drubbing, seized on these fears and ran on a platform emphasizing law and order in 1968 and beyond.  As probably all of us here know, and many of us have also lived through.    

    From the left, I was interested to learn that there was apparently a more far-reaching document produced, and subsequently suppressed until recently, in connection with the Kerner Commission's activities.  That is the subject of the second book I mentioned.

    I've noted that you do not often seem to speak to issues of public policy--which public policies do you believe need to be changed, which new ones would need to be adopted?, etc.--in your writings at dag.  I'd be interested to learn more about your views on public policy approaches to dealing with problems you've been calling attention to.  Perhaps the Kerner Commission report and/or the buried staff-drafted report, The Harvest of American Racism, about which Shellow writes, could serve as a jumping-off point to that end.    

    The first point of attack is education. We have school systems housed in poor facilities with outdated supplies/ books. In an age of rrapid transfer of information, this is a formula for disaster. We need to fully fund education. One organization I work with focuses on at risk children in the second- fifth grades. Along with one on one teaching, there is an emphasis on self-worth. These children undergo an intensive 5-6 week course of instruction. Reading and math skills improve dramatically. They average increase is about a half year growth in grade level.Along with allowing innovation in education, we need sex education courses. Teen pregnancy rates are already on the decline. I think we could see further drops with formal sex education


    I know your focus is not necessarily on Native Americans, but today my son attended a museum studies intro at Eastern Michigan University, a predominately black school. He graduated from there several years ago and is now on track to pursue a MFA with an eye to becoming a curator, hopefully in two years time. Opportunities are there for blacks, browns, yellows and reds but as the Times piece stated, networking, or lack thereof, can be quite a hurdle to overcome. And networking is so much what it is all about.

    Unpaid internships are a heavy burden. He will make you proud.

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