US museums are too white, and this paid internship programme hopes to change that

Ten museums across America will participate in an inaugural project launched by the Association of Art Museum Directors

Kenny Scharf's Cosmic Cavern (2015) at the Portland Art Museum, one of the museums participating in the AAMD's paid internship project Courtesy of the AAMD and the Portland Art Museum

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has announced the ten US museums that will participate in its paid internship programme, which was announced earlier this summer and aims to give minority undergraduate students an opportunity to work in the arts. The project hopes to “proactively address the demographic disparity in our industry by recognising that access to funds is sometimes the biggest hurdle for many people”, says Madeleine Grynsztejn, the president of the association.

The participating museums, chosen from a pool of 55 applicants, include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Anchorage Museum, the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the McNay Art Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Missoula Art Museum, the Montclair Art Museum, the Portland Art Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

The project was conceived in response to a study published in 2015 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums that revealed minorities made up 28% of staff in US museums. Yet it also found that non-Hispanic white staff members held 84% of the more prestigious positions like curators, conservators and educators. An updated study is due to be published next year.

In its pilot year, the students will each be offered a 12-week placement with a stipend of $6,300 and will be partnered with mentors who will guide them through specific projects ranging from helping to prepare educational programmes to assisting curators with proposals for exhibitions that draw on works from the museum’s permanent collection.

“One of the ways that people move forward is through mentorship, but it’s sometimes accidental, and we’re making it purposeful”, says Grynsztejn. She adds, “It’s all too easy to end up doing a lot of Xeroxing when you intern at a museum, so we also look forward to getting feedback from students and institutions on how to make the internships even stronger in the future.”.

The project is being funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with support from the AAMD and its member museums.