News & Politics

How To Make DC Museums More Inclusive

Three questions for Makeba Clay, the Phillips Collection's first chief diversity officer

Makeba Clay. Photograph by Rhiannon Newman.

What are some diversity issues facing museums?

There’s a lack of representation in the higher ranks. The larger museums are typically run by white men—there’s an issue around gender. And then in art museums, the intellectual positions are focused on curatorial work. Those are mostly white women.

What will you be doing at the Phillips?

Just imagine my role as tentacles that touch every area of the institution. So exhibitions: I’ll be at the table asking questions and helping the team think about what the social implications are of the work we’re doing. Also, we’ll be doing some unconscious-bias training with our board and our whole staff. And I’m always saying, “Who’s not at the table?” We haven’t recruited people for our internships and fellowships from any of the historically black colleges in the area, as an example. And I’ve been meeting with some artists in DC who are historically underrepresented but maybe never even heard of the Phillips. Why is that?

What you’re doing seems like a difficult, almost impossible task.

You’re right, but it’s not one swoop by one person with a cape or a magic wand. It’s about incremental change in all these pockets around the institution. What makes it less daunting is when you know that we’re on the journey together. I’m leading the charge in partnership with my colleagues.

This article appeared in the July 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Editorial Fellow

McKenzie is a spring 2018 editorial fellow. She graduated in May 2017 from Kent State University with a major in journalism and minor in fashion media. She was most recently a copy editor at the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. Georgetown is her favorite place in DC, and she loves food, style, Netflix, and her Kindle.