How And Why Art Museums Are Diversifying Their Collections

Gus Navarro

Art museums offer us an invaluable venue to learn about our world and ourselves through fine works of art by master artists. But many of them also struggle with the fact that most of the pieces displayed in their galleries are the product of white men.

How should art museums address this problem? The easy answer might be to acquire more art by minority and underrepresented artists.

But how? And with what money?

The Baltimore Museum of Art is confronting this issue head-on. They’re selling works of art by famous artists including Andy Warhol.

Is this the right approach? Should it be replicated elsewhere? Should it be replicated here in Detroit?

Chris Bedford, the director of the Baltimore Art Museum, joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to speak about how the Baltimore museum is attempting to diversify its art collection.

Bedford says selling some of the museum’s art is “part of a five-part strategy for institutional change at the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

We wanted to achieve relevance. We wanted to generate excitement. We wanted to drive a diverse audience to the museum,” says Bedford. “Looking at our collection, we found a great-deal of duplication and triplication of work by principally, and predictably, white men,” he adds.

We made the…unanimous decision…to sell those objects at auction to create a, kind of, war-chest to diversify our collection understanding that for decades and decades, the BMA’s collection, like many collections, was assembled with bias and unconscious bias in the background,” Bedford says.

We decided we have an obligation to this city to tell a different story and to correct the errors of the past.”

Valerie J. Mercer is the curator and department head of the General Motors Center for African American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Mercer also speaks with Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson about whether or not the DIA has ever considered selling some of their pieces of art.

Mercer says it’s possible the DIA could follow the Baltimore museum’s lead, but because of the African American art center, the DIA has been able to take a different approach.

The work being done at the art center “really hasn’t been duplicated at most American fine-art museums,” she says.

We have five galleries devoted to African American art in order to teach people about the art history for African American art.”

Click on the audio player above for the full conversation. 

Image credit: Detroit Institute of Arts

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