The board that advises the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a federal agency that supports museums and libraries through grants (which, last year, totalled $425.7m) and policy development, is getting 11 new members appointed by US President Joseph R. Biden. In addition to advising the IMLS for five years, the members of the National Museum and Library Services Board help select the honorees for the annual National Medals honours.
The White House announced the new appointees on 12 August, and they include several major figures in the US museums field, including Halona Norton-Westbrook, the director of the Honolulu Museum of Art; Cameron Kitchin, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s director; Amy Gilman, the director of the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin; Allison Perkins, the executive director of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in North Carolina; and Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, who was recently appointed the director of the Parrish Art Museum in New York.
“It’s a tremendous honour to see that someone is actually paying attention to the super-hard work that people who are perhaps not always in the spotlight are doing,” Ramírez-Montagut says of the appointment. “IMLS is one of three—along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities—federal agencies in this nation giving significant monies to museums, so it’s a tremendous honour, but it's also a tremendous responsibility.”
In a statement, IMLS director Crosby Kemper, a Trump appointee, said of the new board members, "Collectively, they represent the importance of diversity in the humanities and demonstrate the valuable role of museums and libraries in American society. I look forward to working with them and receiving their esteemed input."
IMLS’s role as one of the major sources of federal arts funding in the US has also made it a popular target for Republican lawmakers looking to slash spending and stoke the culture wars. In each year of his presidency, Donald Trump called for the institute’s elimination in his federal budget proposals. With the prospect of a Republican takeover of Congress in the coming mid-term elections in November and a possible rematch of the 2020 presidential election in 2024, IMLS may once again find itself in the political crosshairs.
But for Ramírez-Montagut, a native of Mexico who has held museum posts in Michigan, Louisiana, California, Connecticut and more, the organisations funded by IMLS are essential to fostering inclusion and understanding, and to countering the extreme polarisation that has taken hold of US society.
“I came to this country because I believe in the ideal of a diverse and inclusive America and because I know that that’s the environment where I can thrive, and I think that it is very important that we continue defending that notion of America to make it a reality for many,” Ramírez-Montagut says. “That’s what museums and libraries do, they educate us and illuminate, they reveal things about ourselves as people, but also at a national level about our country, and without that platform we will not be able to serve our fellow citizens better. That kind of self-awareness through research, education, exhibitions, libraries and archives is of paramount importance.”
The 11 new members of the National Museum and Library Services Board officially joined on 10 August but will likely be formally sworn in during a ceremony this autumn ahead of the board’s next meeting in early December.