Programme of paid internships aims to make US museum staff more diverse

Association of Art Museum Directors launches scheme to provide undergraduate students from minority backgrounds with hands-on experience

Courtesy of the AAMD

In response to the demographic disparity of staff in museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) has launched a paid internship programme aimed at giving undergraduate students from under-represented backgrounds an opportunity to work in the arts.

Christine Anagnos, the executive director of the AAMD, says that “research on the demographics of museum staff proves that this is an area of challenge”, adding that the internship scheme is “the first phase in a series of steps to address this disparity [and] create a sustainable pathway for [minority] students to a successful career in art museums”.

In its pilot year, the programme will offer ten students a 12-week placement with a stipend of $6,300, and pair each pupil with a mentor who will guide them through a particular project. The application process, open to all of the AAMD’s 242 member museums in the US, Canada and Mexico, will begin this summer and participants will be announced in September. The project is funded through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with support from the AAMD and its member museums.

“The host institutions will select the intern and submit an application to AAMD defining a mentor and what department the intern will be placed in, as well as what activities the intern will be involved in”, Anagnos says. “We’re looking to engage students that are just beginning to solidify their potential career path—hopefully smart, intellectually curious students taking a first step to developing a new generation of art museum leaders.”

A study conducted in 2015 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) revealed that, while minorities made up 28% of the employees in US museums, the positions "most closely associated with the intellectual and educational mission", including curators, conservators, educators, and leadership, were dominated by non-Hispanic white staff members, who held 84% of those jobs.

Anagnos says that while “many museums are doing great work in this area, it’s our hope that this programme will continue that work by providing the financial backing to enable internship programmes they otherwise may not be able to support”. She adds: “paid internships are key for the participants, too, so that they don’t have to choose between earning money over the summer and earning career skills and opportunities”.