November 30, 2023

McCreary, who became the first black person on the MFA’s leadership team in 2018, said institutions need to evaluate managers against clear criteria. For example, when managers argue they can’t find color candidates, companies should say, “You can’t hire anyone until you find someone or you won’t get a performance boost,” McCreary said. “We have to have consequences.”

In the past, relying on a new employee may have checked the box for diversity efforts. Now the institutions insist on the involvement of all staff. “I see the entire organization as my team,” said Clay, who works to set the benchmark for progress at Phillips. “Hiring me is the first step of all of you who say, ‘We’re ready to roll up our sleeves.'”

Ailing nonprofit cultural organizations have struggled to raise funds for dedicated diversity officers, especially when the economic strain of the pandemic has led to layoffs and vacations. Now they have realized the importance of raising money specifically to hire these specialists (for example, the position of Chief Diversity Officer for the Phillips Collection was funded by the Sherman Fairchild Foundation).

“People are realizing that there has to be a professional,” said Sarah James, who specializes in finding cultural workers at Phillips Oppenheim. “You can find the money for it.”

Experts say that these attitudes become more meaningful when the diversity officers are overseen by the top managers of the institutions rather than just the HR department. “If it doesn’t come from above, it won’t work,” said Nancy Huckaba, vice president of EFL Associates, a recruiting firm.

Above all, experts agree that art managers must time and again overcome entrenched institutional inequalities – and hold themselves accountable. “It’s about intentionality and purpose,” Greene said, “and the persistence to move it forward – one trustee, one employee at a time.”