Americans want their museums to be more socially engaged

·2-min read
42% of respondents say that cultural institutions should do more to address racial injustices in the country.

What is the purpose of museums? While this is not a new question, the pandemic has prompted cultural institutions and their visitors to reflect on the role of museums in society. Americans, meanwhile, want them to be more involved in the fight against climate change and racism, according to a new study.

Consulting firms LaPlaca Cohen, Slover Linett Audience Research and Yancey Consulting surveyed 78,000 Americans as part of their " Culture and Community in a Time of Transformation " report. The goal? To paint a picture of "behaviors, attitudes, motivations and barriers to cultural participation" in the United States.

It turns out that the cultural world's involvement in social movements like "Black Lives Matter" is considered insufficient by many Americans. For example, 42% of respondents say that cultural institutions should be more involved in addressing systemic racial injustices in the country. One third say they should address climate change and income inequality. Only 14% say museums should address the covid-19 pandemic.

However, opinions differed based on the ethnic backgrounds of the study participants. Nearly 70% of Native Americans believe that museum institutions contribute to racial bias, compared to 55% of Black/ African Americans. Less than 40% of Hispani /Latinx respondents felt the same way. These results should be taken with caution given the high homogeneity of the panel of respondents, 63% of whom are white/ Caucasian.

Game-changing measures

There are other factors that affect the kind of relationship Americans have with their country's institutions. Ticket prices are one of them. The majority of respondents (53%) would like to see cultural institutions offer more affordable entry in the future. One third would like to see more inclusiveness and support for local artists. In addition, nearly a quarter of survey participants would like to see the cultural sector treat its employees more equitably.

Conditions related to the salaries of professionals in the field were particularly decried on social networks during the pandemic. The Instagram account @changethemuseum was created in June 2020 to share testimonies of people working or having worked in American museums. They largely highlight the racist behavior and other discrimination that these professionals face on a daily basis. Faced with the scale of the phenomenon, the activist collective behind the account called on Americans to boycott the country's museum institutions in October 2020. Few voices in the art world supported this controversial initiative.

"The current moment has opened a door to the potential for audiences to use their collective power to enact change. Arts organizations should listen to their communities and support their vision and aspirations for a more just and equitable society," wrote the authors of the "Culture and Community in a Time of Transformation" report.

Caroline Drzewinski

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