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Guggenheim Puts Diversity Plan into Play

In early July 2020, the renowned Guggenheim Museum in New York announced that it was launching an independent investigation into a 2019 art exhibit. Approximately 100 current and 100 former employees wrote a letter to the board of trustees alleging a “culture of institutional racism” arising out of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s exhibition. This letter, entitled “A Better Guggenheim,” also alleged the mistreatment of Chaédria LaBouvier who had been a guest curator of the show. She had “encountered institutional racism in a multitude forms.”

Based on the investigation, the museum has a two-year plan to improve its diversity programming and implement stronger methods for reporting discrimination. These new initiatives include paid internships for students from underrepresented backgrounds, a partnership with historically Black colleges and universities to highlight job opportunities, and a professional network in the industry for individuals of color working at arts organizations. The museum will hire a new top-level executive to oversee these diversity initiatives and establish a committee that will examine the museum’s exhibitions and acquisitions through the prism of expanding equity and diversity.

Eight museum employees and an outside consultant created the Guggenheim’s plan with four of those individuals identifying themselves as Black. This group also noted that museum visitors do not reflect the diversity of New York because nearly 73% of visitors identify as white based on a recent study. To change that number, the group recommends expanding the museum’s “expand pay what you wish hours” beyond Saturday evening. Moreover, the group strongly encouraged the museum to hold shows for more marginalized groups.

Reception to the plan has been mixed, with many employees not hopeful that the plan will create real change. Because much of the staff has been furloughed due to the pandemic, many diverse staff members were not able to provide input on the plan. The ongoing pandemic and its devastating financial impact make it uncertain what will happen next at the museum.