Racism, Income Inequality, and Climate Change Are the Topics Americans Most Want Museums to Address, According to a New Survey

Over half of Black, Asian, and Native American respondents view systemic racism as a problem at art museums.

MCA Chicago front steps. Photo by Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Nearly half of Americans think the biggest problem among the country’s cultural organizations is racism, according to a new Culture Track survey.

Of the 78,000 people that weighed in for the report, called “Culture and Community in a Time of Transformation,” 42 percent said cultural organizations need to address systemic racial injustices—the most common choice by a significant margin. Income inequality and climate change were the next biggest topics, each mentioned in 31 percent of replies.

Predictably, the opinions diverged greatly among different racial and ethnic groups. Roughly 70 percent of Native Americans viewed systemic racism as a problem at art museums, and between 50 and 55 percent of Black and Asian respondents said the same thing. But just over 20 percent of white people agreed. 

Notably, a lopsided 63 percent of respondents were white, while those that identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Native American, or Latinx constituted 33 percent of the pool. 

The geographical spread was far more evenly distributed, however, with no one area of the country represented by more than 17 percent, or less than 7 percent, of the survey sample. The pool included 192 museums and 182 performing arts venues, which circulated the study to employees. 

Put together by marketing consultancy LaPlaca Cohen, Slover Linett Audience Research, and Yancey Consulting, the report represents two waves of study—one conducted in April and May of 2020, and the other in April 2021. 

The goal, according to the organizers, is to paint a picture of national “audience behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and barriers to cultural participation.” Topics posed to survey participants included the physical, financial, and emotional effects of Covid-19; the importance of digital versus in-person programming; and safety measures enforced by individual sites. 

Among obstacles to access identified by the report, the price of admission was cited as a major barrier to arts experiences. When asked what types of changes they’d wish to see at cultural organizations, half of those surveyed said they wanted lower ticket prices. An additional one-third argued for supporting local artists more, and a nearly quarter of respondents wished for more equitable treatment of employees. 

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