The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) marked International Women's Day with a report entitled "The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships", and the results are as disappointing as Georg Baselitz's view on female artists.
The statistics start out with a certain amount of promise: a relatively respectable 42.6 per cent of art museum directors across North America are women. The promise quickly turns out to be hollow, however: on average, female directors are paid less than 80 per cent of what their male counterparts earn. While women hold 48 per cent of the directorships in art museums with budgets under $15 million (and are paid $1.02 for every dollar earned by male directors), once we reach the largest art museums, the numbers plummet. Women are at the helm of only 24 per cent of museums with budgets surpassing $15 million, and they can expect to earn 71 per cent of a male director's salary there.
There is no lack of theories from the individuals interviewed for the report as to why so few women head up the continent's biggest art museums; hypotheses range from the gender composition of museum boards to how women present themselves in interviews to a lack of interest on the part of women in running the largest museums. And yet the only references the report makes to the importance of gender equity are fleeting and broad:
"By opening opportunities to a larger and more diverse set of potential leaders, art museums will realise the benefits of drawing upon a larger number of exceptional leaders with diverse experience and perspectives."
The absence of anything more specific on the benefits of bringing women into leading positions in museums is perhaps the most interesting part of the study. One on hand, sweeping statements about the need for diversity neatly sidestep the trap of perpetuating stereotypes of women. On the other, a stronger understanding of what a woman could be expected to add to the conversation would shed light on the actual biases and issues that museums, in particular the most influential institutions, face.
The study opens by stating: "The art within our great museums reflects and shapes our culture. As the directors of the leading visual arts institutions in North America, AAMD members have an unrivalled platform to influence the role that art plays in our society."
If bringing more women on board would improve how museums reflect and shape us, how skewed is the view that is currently on display?