Dear MANY Members, Supporters, and Colleagues,
I’ve had an awful case of cabin fever for a couple of weeks and I know I’m not alone. The past year has left those of us who have dedicated their work to the museum field tired, isolated, and grieving. 500,000 Americans have died, an estimated 30% of New York’s museum professionals lost their jobs, and our physical and mental health has deteriorated. The vaccine is the hope on the horizon, but I am concerned that in our haste to recover financially, we will lose the opportunity to make the changes necessary to reach our audiences with relevant content whether they are on site or in their living rooms, to deepen our role as essential community partners, and to develop a workforce that reflects all New Yorkers.
Lately, a friend is texting me things like “did you read that awful thing about that museum on Instagram?” And since I consume museum social media omnivorously, I can usually reply, “yes, I did.” In return, my friend texts something like, “do you remember when we had to leave work by the loading dock so the major donors at the party in the lobby wouldn’t see the staff?” and “when they threatened to fire me if I didn’t come to work when my child was in the hospital.” As young white women entering the museum field, we were taken advantage of by older colleagues in positions of authority, but were told our mis-treatment was the price we had to pay to work in museums. The dues we paid are small compared to the intolerance and racial bias people of color continue to face as they advance their museum careers.
As we prepare to launch the State of New York State Museums survey, we asked colleagues to contribute questions. The most frequently submitted question was “How are museums addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workforce?” Over the next decades, the demographics of New York are going to change. We will become older and more racially and ethnically diverse; crossing the line to become “majority minority” by 2035. Although we are already one of the most diverse states in the nation, we are far from immune to disparities by race, ethnicity, and geography in access to resources of all kinds. Museums need to prepare today for tomorrow by bringing more voices to the planning table, and finding ways to sustainably diversify staff and audiences.
To help New York’s museums move from intent to action, I am proud to share the news that MANY’s board of directors has approved the launch of a New York Latinx Museum Professional Network later this spring. The light of earlier sunrises, later sunsets, initiatives like this, and your support for MANY’s work brings me hope for a better year ahead. With thanks for your support,
Erika Sanger, MANY Executive Director