LACMA and Arizona State University Team Up for a New Grad Program Aimed at Diversifying Museum Leadership

Michael Govan, Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images.

When the Brooklyn Museum hired a white curator to work in its African art department last month, the decision reignited an ongoing conversation about the lack of diversity in museum leadership. Now, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Arizona State University are teaming up to establish a new master’s program aimed at bringing more curators of color into the profession.

The new graduate program was announced on Tuesday at the American Alliance of Museums conference in Phoenix. The three-year degree will be tuition-free, and combine both academic training and paid, on-the-job work experience at LACMA and the ASU Art Museum in Tempe, Arizona.

The idea for the program was conceived by ASU president Michael Crow and LACMA director Michael Govan at a lunch where the two discussed collaborative ways to modernize their respective institutions. 

“This is us trying to step forward” Crow told artnet News in a joint call with Govan. “In 1960, just under 90 percent of births in the US were to people of European origin, and in 2018 slightly less than half of the births in the United States will be to people of European origin. That is a metamorphic scale change like no one has ever seen in history, and our institutions are lagging behind in addressing it.” Govan added: “If you’re looking to change the leadership positions you have to start at the bottom.”

The program aims to support students from diverse backgrounds by helping them earn a graduate degree and gain work experience at the largest and most comprehensive museum in the western United States. The goal is to remove the dilemma facing young curators and museum workers forced to choose between museum work and graduate school by enabling them to do both at the same time—and actually earn money in the process. Not only will the scholarship help students avoid debilitating debt, the program will pay students for their work at the museums.

“At LACMA, we already have a lot of young people that we’re hiring who meet the qualifications, but they can’t quite get it together to go to graduate school,” Govan explained. “We’re going to pay them salaries… and they will have scholarships to the master’s program [at ASU]. So somebody at LACMA will be able to add on a graduate degree at no added cost provided they can work hard enough to carry both.” 

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the same concept will be applied to ASU students, but students will work at the ASU Art Museum.

According to Crow and Govan, the partnership between LACMA and ASU is just the beginning. The long-term aim is to scale the degree and expand it to other institutions. If the program is successful Govan believes that it could drastically improve diversity at leadership levels at American museums. “The statistics are so stunningly un-diverse, that if we are able to graduate our first class in three years they will be on their way. In 20 years we could see a huge difference statistically—triple, quadruple. It could be many multiples of the very poor number we have now,” he said.

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