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Photo of the Kimisha Turner painting in the museum entryway

Equity at SAM

Art is a crucial way of sharing unique perspectives, reminding us of the past, and envisioning future possibilities. Throughout history, art has been used for education, revolution, politics, propaganda, emotions, subversion, and sharing transformative experiences. SAM believes that art always contains a message and cannot be neutral. We rely on our collection, exhibitions, and the artists we work with to reflect our institutional values and we can, and will, take tangible actions to enact necessary change in our society.

History & Purpose

Photo of a dancer and crowd in front of large paintings in SAM's past exhibition, Figuring History

Seattle Art Museum’s racial equity work has been a focus since the mid-1990s with the formation of multiple community advisory groups and organizational partnerships specifically aimed at building relationships with local communities of color. Under the leadership of Sandra Jackson-Dumont, the Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs who was hired in 2007, and Kim Rorschach, who became SAM’s Director and CEO in 2013, many initiatives were formed to further racial equity work at SAM and the seeds of a culture shift were planted.

In 2015, SAM participated in the Turning Commitment into Action racial equity learning cohort facilitated by the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and Office for Civil Rights. This program provided arts and cultural organizations across Seattle the opportunity to examine the ways they could eliminate institutional racism and build racial equity in their organizations. As a result, in 2016 SAM’s Equity Team was formed.

That same year, independent consultants facilitated racial equity trainings for SAM staff, Board, and volunteers. Based on feedback from the trainings, the Equity Team created SAM’s racial equity plan, which became integrated within the institution’s strategic plan. Because the goals were institution wide, departments were required to look at their individual goals and develop action plans for how they could be achieved. Equity was also added to SAM’s core values, specifically referencing racial equity, with the belief that when we start with race and recognize intersectionality, everyone benefits.

In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, which intensified the Black Lives Matter movement across the country, SAM reaffirmed its ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and created the position of Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a senior level position now held by Priya Frank. In addition, an Equity Task Force was formed.

Equity Taskforce

The goal of this task force was to build on SAM’s commitment to fostering equity and inclusion throughout the museum. Designed as an advisory body composed of members of SAM’s Board, staff, and Education and Community Engagement Committee, the broad membership represents a diverse cross-section of SAM staff and community members so that many perspectives could be brought to the table.

The members of the Equity Task Force were divided into working groups focused on four critical departments at the museum: Human Resources, Curatorial, Development, and Communications.

Over the course of six months, this group gathered virtually to brainstorm, comb through research, discuss ideas, and ultimately developed a set of recommendations in these institutional areas:

Human Resources: Create a more inclusive work environment and increase representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) at SAM through a focus on recruitment, hiring, and retention practices.

Curatorial: Increase BIPOC representation in SAM’s collections, exhibitions, and gallery interpretation; further community collaborations; and expand the scope of programming.

Development: Build inclusive fundraising and membership practices that center trust and authenticity to increase connections with BIPOC audiences.

Communications: Better understand who our current audiences are and identify those communities where we can more effectively engage. Provide strategic guidance to departments across SAM in communicating equity priorities, goals, and progress both internally and externally.

These are summaries of the expansive, detailed timelines that were generated through this work. Departments are already implementing many of these initiatives as they continue planning and identifying resources for the long term.

Advancing racial equity at SAM is everyone’s responsibility. We want to reflect that commitment within the priorities and plans of every element across the institution. We recognize that this work never ends, and that we each play a role—including you, our visitors and members—in creating a museum where everyone feels a powerful sense of belonging and can connect with the art and ideas on view.

Equity Team

Photo of the Equity Team standing under a sign that says Take Me to the Art

With 35 members across all departments at SAM, the Equity Team is committed to providing institutional accountability for strategic plan goals around racial equity. The Equity Team is co-leading efforts to improve processes and consult with leadership on issues ranging from messaging, security procedures, and the creation of label texts, to consulting on trainings. The team is divided into project-based subcommittees which we call taskforces. These taskforces are formed around specific institutional strategic plan goals. They provide resources and support to SAM leadership and expand visibility and resources for racial equity work locally and nationally.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

Learn more about Equity at SAM