Imagine having to select just 250 works of art and architecture, spanning all humankind, Paleolithic man to Maya Lin. Such was the Herculean task the College Board—the organization that oversees Advanced Placement classes—shouldered when it relaunched AP art history this fall. The course had been lacking on two fronts: one pedagogical, the other cultural. So, several years ago, the College Board convened a group of professors and teachers to condense its curriculum, for the first time, into a set of several hundred exemplary works, across as many artistically significant cultures as possible.
Diversifying a syllabus, however, isn’t the same as diversifying a classroom. White juniors and seniors still take AP exams at disproportionately higher rates than their Hispanic, Native American, or black peers, according to College Board data. In 2015, only 2,072 of the country’s schools offered AP art history. So while the new AP-history curriculum requires students to make cross-cultural connections, there’s still a fundamental racial divide in AP art-history classes and exposure to art history that a redesigned course doesn’t address.
And unfortunately, this divide persists on a larger scale. A report by the Mellon Foundation assessed gender and ethnic diversity among museum staff in the United States: 84 percent of the high-level and leadership positions were occupied by white staffers, while black employees held just 4 percent of them. In fact, a survey of “Diversity in the New York City Cultural Community,” released last week found “curators” to be “the whitest” job category in the arts, with 79 percent identifying as white non-Hispanic.