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Playing the Game: Understanding the Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships

Thesis by Kathryn L. Dawson (2017)

The Association of Art Museum Directors has identified a gender gap in art museum directorships particularly in the largest and wealthiest institutions. In order for art museums to create inclusive, accessible educational spaces, it is imperative that the field explores the inequities present in its leadership. This research aims to understand the experiences of women who have achieved leadership positions in medium to large art museums. Fifteen art museum directors from museums with budgets from $10-$30 million, from across the United States were interviewed. The desire to make an impact is a strong theme throughout the interviews, as is the desire to remove barriers for others in the field. Another strong theme that emerged is the importance of, and need for, mentorship. Participants highlighted how gender does not operate in a vacuum, however, but rather interacts with other identities, such as age, race, and sexuality. Interviews emphasized a strong need to address inherent biases against women’s leadership within organizations, particularly on boards of directors. Executives are foundational to organizational culture, building organizations that make critical choices about whose art, history, and culture is considered worthy of collecting and exhibiting, and how that is done. These findings suggest that further research should be done to investigate how boards of directors might begin diversifying leadership and mitigating the leaks in the pipeline.

Keywords: Class of 2017, museum, museum studies, museology, research, women, leadership, art museums


Dawson, K., & O’Donnell, Wilson. (2017). Playing the game : Understanding the gender gap in art museum directorships. [University of Washington Libraries].