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Black people hold just 32 of 585 board seats at L.A.'s top arts groups

An illustration of a group of people around a boardroom table.
Museum boards face a growing call to diversify their makeup to more accurately reflect the communities they serve.
(Rose Wong / For The Times)

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.

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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.

Museums

Autry Museum of the American West
51 members
7 BIPOC
0 Black

The Broad
8 members
0 BIPOC

Getty Trust
15 members
5 BIPOC
2 Black

Hammer Museum
22 members
5 BIPOC
3 Black

Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
63 members
10 BIPOC
1 Black

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
51 members
8 BIPOC
5 Black

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Museum of Contemporary Art
40 members
9 BIPOC
1 Black

Museum of Latin American Art
12 members
4 BIPOC
0 Black

Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
41 members
14 BIPOC
5 Black

Orange County Museum of Art
31 members
4 BIPOC
1 Black

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(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%.

Performing arts

Broad Stage

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15 Board members
2 BIPOC
2 Black

Center Theatre Group
50 members
9 BIPOC
Black not specified

Geffen Playhouse
30 members
2 BIPOC
2 Black

L.A. Dance Project
13 members
2 BIPOC
0 Black

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Long Beach Opera
No data provided

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
16 members
7 BIPOC
1 Black

Los Angeles Opera
89 members
14 BIPOC
2 Black

Los Angeles Philharmonic
55 members
13 BIPOC
5 Black

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South Coast Repertory
No data provided

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
33 members
6 BIPOC
2 Black

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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