Three Key Takeaways for Arts and Cultural Institutions from the 2023 American Alliance of Museums Conference

Three Key Takeaways for Arts and Cultural Institutions from the 2023 American Alliance of Museums Conference 

In May I had the privilege of attending the 2023 Annual Meeting for the American Alliance of Museums in Denver. It was thrilling to be among thousands of museum professionals – curators, marketers, researchers, and, of course, fundraisers – all coming together to investigate challenges and offer learning opportunities through successes.  

Here are three takeaways that have stayed with me since the conference, and those that I am eager to engage with and discuss among my colleagues and client partners.  

1. To advance equity, arts and cultural institutions must find ways to engage board members of color 

One of my favorite sessions of the conference was, “Leading the Way: Trustees of Color Advancing Equity in the Cultural Sector,” facilitated by Chrissy Deal, the Director of the Livingston Fellowship Bonfils-Stanton Foundation. 

The session featured four board members of color – Mary Lee Chin, Patricia Baca, Rehan Hasan, and Tina Walls – who each serve on multiple boards for Denver cultural institutions. In addition to providing considerations for prospective board members of color, they also offered recommendations for organizations seeking to attract and recruit diverse board talent. Among many insights, they shared: 

  • As an incoming board member, if a person is the first or the only person of color, that individual will likely be asked to represent the whole culture or race. If an organization is serious about engaging with new communities, it should have a clear strategy that can be shared with new board members of color, to ensure that they will not be asked to represent more than their own experiences and knowledge.  
  • Many people of color, including the panelists themselves, would never join a board where the organization could not express the value of their individual expertise.  
  • Board members should be welcomed in meaningful ways, identifying areas where they bring a particular skillset, network, or interest. They want to feel like they’re making a difference even from the start.  
  • Dollar requirements can be an inhibitor for attracting diverse board talent, but identifying sponsors to fund and support young individuals of color to join boards can help bridge that gap. In the panelists’ experience, people are willing to support those who want to serve.  
  • Mentoring young professionals of color is another way to build a strong board member pipeline. 
2. Our engagement with and support of Indigenous Peoples must be more than performative. 

Almost all museums have land acknowledgments and read them aloud at performances or events. But what do these mean – and what do institutions intend to do with them?  

In his keynote, “Indigenous in Plain Sight,” Gregg Deal, of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, raised these and other challenging yet necessary questions our cultural institutions must confront. A multi-disciplinary artist, activist, and “disruptor,” his work is informed by his Native identity and includes exhaustive critiques of American society, politics, popular culture, and history.   

Gregg encouraged museum leaders to reflect on whether land acknowledgements contribute to increased representation of Indigenous Peoples, and whether they inform policies to advocate for and protect staff members who represent Native groups. He cautioned that, “putting our best foot forward,” in these practices can still have pitfalls, and noted that his storytelling work is not designed to educate people, but rather to generate ideas and see what is possible.  

“Now you know,” he emphasized. “Now you can’t say you don’t know. So, what will you do with your knowledge?” 

3. This is the time to engage younger generations in the support and appreciation of arts and culture. 

I was grateful to present at this conference alongside my client partners at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). My fellow presenters included Kelli-Ann Nakayama, Chief Development Officer; and Jill Watanabe, JANM Governor.  

Jill, a third generation JANM board member, shared this powerful exhortation about engaging younger generations: 

If an organization is serious about engaging with new communities, it should have a clear strategy that can be shared with new board members of color, to ensure that they will not be asked to represent more than their own experiences and knowledge.  

Don’t dismiss us; think about other ways we can be valuable. I’m raising a family in New York City with the mortgage and childcare bills that come with it, but I certainly hope I’ll be in a position to give more generously to JANM in the future. And in the meantime, I’ve been so glad to have the opportunity to donate whatever time and expertise I can.” 

Young professionals – especially Millennials and  Gen Z – are growing their wealth in an environment that is focused on social justice and advancing equality. Thus, organizations must determine how their own values align with and support such causes.  

These younger donors also consume an extraordinary amount of information online and want to engage across all platforms with media that is mobile-friendly. Organizations must think about how these groups are sharing information and shouldn’t overlook peer-to-peer opportunities. Many in these age groups are seeking recognition for their involvement in philanthropic and other social causes, and social media platforms can recognize that kind of engagement and encourage it from others. 

As I work alongside cultural institutions navigating this complex philanthropic environment, I appreciate opportunities to strategize solutions to these challenges – and many more. And I trust these insights will guide many organizations seeking to attract greater support for their missions and work. 

Anne S. Kohn, Vice President has more than 15 years of expertise in philanthropy and nonprofit management. During her time at GG+A, she has worked with arts and culture organizations with fundraising goals of $5 million to $750 million. Contact Anne at akohn@grenzglier.com.  

Register for our upcoming virtual training, “Cultivating Support for Arts & Culture: A 3-Day Major Gifts Intensive,” for additional fundraising guidance and strategies tailored to nonprofits in the arts and culture sector. Learn more and join us from July 11th – 13th 

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About the author

Anne S. Kohn

Senior Vice President

Anne S. Kohn, Senior Vice President and Arts & Culture practice area leader, brings to the firm more than 15 years of professional experience in the performing arts.   Since joining GG+A, Anne has worked across all sectors of nonprofits with a particular focus and passion for arts and cultural…