Black people hold just 32 of 585 board seats at L.A.'s top arts groups
The murder of George Floyd and subsequent reckoning over systemic racism in this country has sparked a growing call for cultural institutions to address diversity, equity and inclusion, whether that means the collection of a museum, the programming of a theater or the staff of an opera company. But change is often slow — and it frequently comes from the top.
The top, in most cases, is the all-mighty board of directors or board of trustees. Although most people get bored by the very mention of the word “board,” these people make critical decisions with consequences rippling throughout every level of the institution, from the director’s seat down. Those who want more equity in representation can start with the board.
The American Alliance of Museums’ most recent survey of boards, a 2017 query that included about 800 museums, found that 89% of museum board members in the U.S. identified as white. Forty-six percent of the boards surveyed were 100% white.
If you thought the racial reckoning last year would lead to dramatically different results in a multicultural metropolis such as Southern California, you would be wrong.
The Times surveyed 10 major Southern California museums and 10 major performing arts companies and venues. We simply asked for three numbers: board members, board members who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color, and more specifically, board members who are Black.
At the museums The Times surveyed, Black members made up just 5.4% of the boards — 18 people out of 334 seats at the table — even though Black people make up an estimated 9% of L.A. County’s population. Three of the 10 museums had just one Black board member, and three museums had none. Broadening to look at all BIPOC board members, the discrepancy is even more startling: While nearly 74% of L.A. County is nonwhite, only 19.8% of the museum board members identified as nonwhite.
Autry Museum of the American West
Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum of Latin American Art
Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
Orange County Museum of Art
(The number of BIPOC board members includes any who identify as Black.)
The numbers for the performing arts companies The Times surveyed are harder to parse, largely because two companies, South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa and Long Beach Opera, declined to provide the racial identity of their boards. A third company, Center Theatre Group, said it does not yet have a detailed breakdown of board member identity but has plans for a more detailed demographic assessment.
The companies that did respond enumerated 251 board members, of whom only 14 people, or 5.6%, were Black. The number of BIPOC board members was 46, or 18.3%.
15 Board members
Center Theatre Group
Black not specified
L.A. Dance Project
Long Beach Opera
No data provided
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Opera
Los Angeles Philharmonic
South Coast Repertory
No data provided
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
So what does the museum board actually do, how much power does it yield and why should the diversity, equity and inclusion discussion start there? In addition to the American Alliance of Museums, The Times spoke to BoardSource, the Museum Trustee Assn. and the Assn. of Art Museum Directors to find out why, if you care about diversity and equity, you should care about boards.
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