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Gender diversity on the boards of large non-profit cultural institutions

Non-profit organizations are governed by private citizens who must put their own interests aside to ensure that the organizations adhere to their charitable or educational missions. The legal and societal responsibilities of trustees are momentous, yet, prior to the Six Cities Trusteeship Project, little information was available about the individuals serving as trustees. Are non-profit boards homogeneous elite vehicles, or do they reflect the public they are charged to serve? Researchers from the Six Cities Trusteeship Project sought to answer these questions about large non-profits in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia in 1931, 1961, and 1991. This quick fact explores their findings about board composition for large non-profit cultural institutions, specifically art museums and symphony orchestras.

Were women trustees of cultural institutions in 1931?

In 1931 women were poorly represented on nonprofit boards in nearly all industries, with the exception of traditionally female organizations like the Junior League and YWCA and some Catholic hospitals governed by nuns. In the arts, their representation was also low. Of the 131 trustees of the six art museums studied for 1931, only 8% were women. For symphony orchestras, the situation was slightly better -- nearly 18% of their 114 trustees were women.

Cities and institutions excluded women to different degrees. Women had absolutely no representation on the boards of Boston's largest cultural institutions in 1931, and only one trustee on a cultural institution's board in the Twin Cities. Trusteeship of art museums in Cleveland and Los Angeles differed greatly from the symphony orchestras in those cities. The art museums had no women on the boards, but the symphonies had relatively high percentages of female trustees (24% in Cleveland, 33% in Los Angeles). Philadelphia and Atlanta were both relatively progressive in terms of women's representation, with women accounting for 17% of Philadelphia's art museum trustees, 23% of Atlanta's art museum trustees, and 26% of Philadelphia's symphony orchestra trustees. (Atlanta did not have a symphony orchestra in 1931.) Despite instances of higher representation of women on boards, overall women's share of the governance of major cultural institutions was nowhere near proportionate to their share of the population, and presumably also not to their share of the audience.

Graph: Women's Cultural Trusteeship in 1931. (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

How has women's cultural trusteeship changed over time?

In most cities, women's cultural trusteeship grew substantially from 1931 to 1991, rising to 33% or higher for some institutions in Atlanta, Cleveland, and the Twin Cities.

Graph: Women's Cultural Trusteeship in 1991 (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

In Atlanta, the percentage of female art museum trustees rose from 23% in 1931 to 43% in 1991. Boston's cultural institution boards, which had been governed exclusively by men in 1931, diversified substantially so that by 1991 women accounted for 20% of art museum trustees and 31% of symphony orchestra trustees. Women also gained seats on exclusively male boards in other cities. By 1991, 34% of art museum trustees in Minneapolis/St. Paul were women, 33% in Cleveland, and 29% in Los Angeles.

Graph: Gender Diversity of Art Musem Trustees (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

The Twin Cities' symphony orchestra board also showed a dramatic rise in women's representation, growing from one trustee in 1931 (3% of the board) to 29 trustees in 1991 (31% of the board).

Graph: Gender Diversity of Symphony Orchestra Trustees (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

However, the share of women on symphony orchestra boards, which had been relatively strong in 1931, declined in Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. While the overall size of art museum and symphony orchestra boards in these cities more than doubled between 1931 to 1991, the number of women on these boards did not rise at nearly the same rate. It is also interesting to note that the number of male trustees did not decline in order for women to gain representation.

Graph: Gender Diversity  of Art Museum Trustees (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

Graph: Gender Diversity of Symphony Orchestra Trustees (The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Data Set)

Data from The Six Cities Trusteeship Project: Trustee Biographical Dataset [1931, 1961, 1991] are available to all users through CPANDA's Quick Analysis tool.

 

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