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Leading Real Change in Museums, Rooted In Equity, Collaboration, and Care

Mission & History

The U-M Museum of Art puts art and ideas at the center of campus and public life. We create experiences that enrich our understanding of one another, foster joy, and build a more just future. Through exhibitions, programs, research, and community partnerships we are redefining what a campus museum can be.

Introduction From the Director

We began the process that led to this strategic plan in November 2019, more than two years ago. During those long 24 months the world jumped its tracks, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and our ideas and ideals about our future, jumped with it.

This plan, and our work at UMMA, is centered on one question: How do we lead real change in museums, so that the communities we care about can thrive in the 21st century?

UMMA‘s core values

Through a series of all-staff and small group conversations, UMMA staff articulated five Core Values that will guide the Museum’s work going forward.

Art. Equity. Collaboration. Change. Care.

ART – Art strengthens human connection and creates a more just future.

This means we:

  • Create experiences with art that transform the way we see each other and the world
  • Support individuals and communities in finding meaning through art
  • Support artists in creating, sharing, and preserving their art
  • Embrace the capacity of art to build empathy, social cohesion, and foster joy

EQUITY – Access to art is a fundamental human right.

This means we:

  • Actively dismantle barriers to participation for everyone
  • Continually build UMMA’s intercultural understanding and anti-racist practice
  • Amplify BIPOC voices and under-told stories
  • Create spaces that are welcoming and equitable for all
  • Make UMMA’s collection accessible for all, both in-person and online

COLLABORATION – Collaboration is central to everything we do.

This means we:

  • Embrace partnerships across the U-M campus
  • Invest in intentional, consistent, and reciprocal relationships
  • Learn from and co-create projects with the communities we seek to engage
  • Respect and cultivate diverse expertise

CHANGE – Museums must change their practices to be relevant to, and support, a breadth of communities.

This means we:

  • Support new ways of creating, collaborating, and learning
  • Take informed risks and learn from our mistakes
  • Initiate challenging projects that illuminate ideas and spark growth
  • Question assumptions about what a campus museum should be

CARE – We care for our colleagues, collaborators, communities, and art.

This means we:

  • Extend genuine empathy, kindness, and generosity
  • Honor the rich diversity of people, experiences, and ideas
  • Compensate staff and collaborators fairly and invest in their well-being and growth
  • Steward UMMA’s art and resources

Engage Diverse Communities & Perspectives

Art is a fundamental human right and equity must be central to everything that UMMA does.

Why we’re engaging diverse communities and perspectives now

Historically, the collections, programming, staff and visitorship at U.S. art museums have not reflected the diversity of their local communities. More than 80% of artists represented in the collections of major U.S. museums are white, and more than 85% are male. Further, the majority of art museum employees are white. UMMA is no different. In order to fulfill UMMA’s mission we must prioritize new ways of working to contribute to a more equitable future for our communities and institution.

We seek to make UMMA a more diverse and welcoming place. UMMA will be a site where courageous and important conversations can take place, and where empathy is encouraged by considering perspectives across time, culture, identity, and geography. To do this we must welcome, represent, and partner with diverse groups on campus, in the region, and beyond, and build authentic relationships that support co-creation. Over the next five years, UMMA will become a better partner to communities we have not previously served well. We will prioritize deepening connections with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, beginning with U-M BIPOC and first-generation students, and BIPOC residents and K-12 students in Washtenaw County. This builds upon the work underway as part of UMMA’s Commitment to Anti-Racist Action and a More Inclusive Museum and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan.

In five years ..

Increasingly diverse people, experiences, and ideas will be present and prioritized within the Museum’s staff, among Museum visitors, and the artists represented in UMMA’s exhibitions, programs, and collection. With investments in programming, education, and community collaboration UMMA will be known as a partner that listens well. UMMA will be transparent about its history and will sustain, and continuously improve upon, the work necessary to be an anti-racist museum. UMMA is working toward a more equitable future in which underserved communities view the Museum as an open, safe, and comfortable place that adds value to their lives.

Tactics to Engage Diverse Communities and Perspectives

Conduct listening sessions with communities who have been underserved by UMMA, including:
  • BIPOC community members.
  • LGBTQ+ community members.
  • Community members with disabilities.
  • First-generation U-M students.
  • Other individuals and groups not yet identified.
Implement DEI best practices for recruiting, hiring, and supporting staff, interns, and advisors
  • Increase the diversity of the Museum’s advisory boards, councils, and volunteer corps.
  • Develop and implement a more transparent and accessible process for hiring and onboarding interns and student workers. See more in the Advance Teaching and Learning strategy.
  • Require DEI training for UMMA staff, volunteers, and student interns.
  • Increase pay equity through a U-M pay equity audit and equity-based salary support.
  • Design and conduct an annual staff climate survey.
Co-curate exhibitions and programs with diverse communities
  • Develop a five-year plan for a Power Family Program for Inuit Art exhibition, commission, and scholarship, in partnership with Inuit Futures.
  • Support art-based academic research into themes and issues related to DEI.
  • Open UMMA’s communications channels to more diverse contributors.
  • Increase the capacity of the curatorial team to forge new partnerships.
  • Use UMMA’s resources to support and be of service to local community members and organizations.
Develop and share new collection and exhibition policies in alignment with antiracist values
  • Establish and implement processes to review all UMMA exhibitions, programs, and initiatives through a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, anti-racism, and social justice.
  • Prioritize exhibitions and research projects that investigate and make transparent a more complex history of UMMA’s collections, building, and the broader university campus.
  • Explore options for repatriating or making restitution for objects of questionable provenance, where appropriate.
  • Make significant progress on implementing additional options, including the deaccessioning of art, to further diversify UMMA’s collection.
  • Be a resource for other institutions that seek to be more transparent about the history of their collections by actively making our work known.

Be A Dynamic Space For Civic Life & Shared Experiences

Museums should be vital and joyful sites for shared community life.

Why We’re Supporting Civic Life & Shared Experience Now

To hold true meaning and value for our communities, we must embrace UMMA’s role as a vital piece of social infrastructure—a free, open space that matters for most people, not just a privileged few. Public institutions, such as art museums, must do more to ensure our spaces are open, welcoming, and joyful sites for dynamic public life. Art has special capacities to deepen shared community life: it helps us understand ourselves and the world around us more deeply; it can bring healing to communities who need it, clarity to those in search of an answer, and empowerment to the disenfranchised.

UMMA’s commitment to civic life and shared experiences expands on U-M’s leadership in developing equitable partnerships that allow for an open exchange of resources and ideas between the university, local and regional communities, and the world beyond. UMMA seeks to inspire others on campus, and at campus museums more broadly, to embrace the importance of strengthening civic life.

UMMA will be a reimagined art museum, one with an irresistible public draw that is a conduit for social life, and encourages interactivity, positive social friction, critical thinking and dialogue, and social bonding that works against isolation, polarization, and transactional exchange.

In Five Years, UMMA Will…

Be broadly perceived by key communities as a dynamic and vital cultural center where they go to socialize, find inspiration, and be exposed to new ideas. By reimagining the use of UMMA’s public spaces, a wide range of visitors will experience deepened cultural engagement that supports their needs and desires. UMMA will understand more about who uses the Museum’s spaces and platforms and how to make those spaces and platforms more widely accessible and welcoming. Other U-M units and campus museums will draw inspiration for their own transformations to build social cohesion through powerful shared experiences. We will have an established reputation as an art museum that connects with its public in unique and meaningful ways.

Tactics to Be a Dynamic Site for Civic Life & Shared Experiences

Deeply understand visitors and their social and civic needs
  • Implement audience research methods that allow UMMA to understand the motivations and barriers to participation in cultural activities. These might include focus groups with community partners, visitor surveys, and check-in and follow-up protocols. Gather feedback consistently.
  • Develop target audience profiles to allow for better engagement across Museum operations.
Dramatically reimagine the use of UMMA’s public spaces
  • Investigate and invest in architectural changes to UMMA’s building that streamline the visitor experience, create a more welcoming environment, and encourage social engagement.
  • Prototype “Stenn Exchange,” a pilot program in UMMA’s galleries that reimagines how the Museum collaborates with community partners.
  • Complete a wayfinding audit, and implement improvements to signage and wayfinding with an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility.
Reorient UMMA programs and platforms to emphasize civic life and shared experiences
  • Reevaluate existing programs to create capacity for new types of programs that enliven UMMA’s spaces and create deeper understanding between individuals and communities.
  • Develop new interactive and dynamic programming that embraces the performing arts, hands-on artmaking, and dialogue around complex topics.
  • Collaborate with the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s Office and campus partners to deploy UMMA as a voter registration and polling site for every major election from 2022 through 2026.
  • Program an annual theme for each of the next 3 years; organize and host a U-M theme semester that has one of these topics at its center.
  • Strengthen UMMA’s digital platforms, including the website, for social interaction and supporting diverse perspectives.
Grow UMMA’s reputation as a leader in civic life
  • Build UMMA’s brand as a powerful champion for the idea that artistic expression and dynamic, accessible public spaces are fundamental human rights.
  • Relaunch the UMMA magazine as a space for community idea exchange that expands the Museum’s commitment to art, ideas, and civic life within and beyond the walls of the building.
  • Combine UMMA’s public website and digital collections website (UMMA Exchange) into a singular experience, making UMMA’s collection more accessible and allowing for the development of innovative and intuitive storytelling and teaching tools.
  • Establish a media strategy and track mentions across a list of target publications and media outlets.


Museum-based teaching and learning creates a sense of belonging and deepens our understanding of one another.

Why We’re Advancing Teaching, Learning & Student Participation Now

As an art museum on a college campus, UMMA is deeply committed to supporting learners and educators at all levels. UMMA is a national leader in university curricular integration across a broad range of disciplines both within and beyond the arts. This plan will deepen collaborations both with faculty and students, develop unexpected and innovative university partnerships, and broaden the reach of classroom experiences at the university and in the region’s K-12 schools. The plan also embraces opportunities for UMMA to act as a site for experiential learning and emphasizes UMMA’s interest in learning from student perspectives.

Collections, exhibitions, and programs all serve as catalysts for exploration of current and historical events; UMMA’s collection in particular is a potent resource for understanding the complexities of the human experience. This plan will extend UMMA’s resources to underserved communities through inclusive teaching practices, intentional collaboration and partnership, and development of pedagogical materials for teachers and students with a focus on the ability of art, exhibitions, and programs to tell stories that resonate, challenge, and illuminate.

In Five Years, UMMA Will…

Be a center for teaching and learning and a leader in equitable pedagogical practice that is known for experimentation, innovation, and inspiration. UMMA will partner across the U-M campus to increase the breadth of discipline and research in the Museum. We will expand the use of exhibitions and programs by faculty and students through increased co-curation and early collaboration. Members of the Student Engagement Council (SEC) will be involved in important decision-making, and we will provide more opportunities for paid internships and graduate student fellowships. UMMA will transform its K-12 program to meet the curricular and social needs of a more diverse school population by increasing the diversity of educators in its galleries as well as the diversity of the stories it tells.

Tactics to Advance Teaching & Learning

Deepen and expand university partnerships that further research, teaching, and learning
  • Expand the breadth of curricular engagement to include every U-M school and college.
  • Invest in U-M partnerships beyond the classroom that demonstrate how the Museum is a relevant partner in exploring a broad set of disciplines and important issues.
  • Develop projects and programs that make UMMA’s university teaching and learning activities more visible to the public and contribute to UMMA’s role as a dynamic public space.
  • Identify and support faculty as key curatorial and research collaborators.
  • Support and prioritize student voice and agency in UMMA’s core work
  • Create a student internship program that supports both student interns and UMMA staff and provides a richer learning experience.
  • Expand the role of students as formal decision-makers and advisors to UMMA through the SEC, Director's Acquisition Committee, and National Board.
  • Continue to invest in research and mentoring opportunities for U-M undergrad and graduate students, especially those from underrepresented groups.
  • Work with U-M departments to create additional Graduate Teaching Fellowships that develop the next generation of university faculty.
  • Explore opportunities to showcase artwork created by students in the Museum.
  • Realign K-12 learning to meet the needs of teachers and students, and support equitable, anti-racist practice
  • Redevelop a K-12 gallery teaching program that is fresh and relevant to the region’s diverse communities.
  • Hire a cohort of paid, part-time educators to support K-12 learning activities.
  • Grow the partnership with the U-M School of Education to explore creative ways to evolve K-12 learning experiences at UMMA.
  • Create a paid advisory committee of K-12 teachers.
  • Partner with community organizations that reach K-12 audiences including 826Michigan, YpsiWrites, Ypsilanti Public Library, Ann Arbor District Library, and others.
  • Deepen support of Title I schools by prioritizing their visits.

    Our collection and exhibition program are a dynamic source of ideas, inspiration, and identification for our communities.

    Why We’re Shaping a Vital Program & Collection Now

    UMMA’s collection is a versatile and expansive resource. As the site where art collections meet new generations of people, the Museum has an obligation to steward and realize the potential of the collection. This plan will help the Museum deploy the collection to the benefit of its diverse publics, using art to deepen understanding of the past and present, develop empathy for others and ourselves, and re-imagine potential futures.

    This plan will deliver on the potential of UMMA’s collection, deploying artwork through installations that pose and research questions about global narratives of history and art history; expose colonial histories and rebalance the race and gender of artists shown on our walls; and explore the complex role visual culture plays in the world. UMMA has a powerful opportunity, and obligation, to reimagine art museums, and especially those on college campuses. This reimagining will revitalize the meaning and purpose of a collection. Museums can reinforce oppressive and unjust systems through the means and methods used to preserve, curate, and interpret collections. However, these same practices can also amplify marginalized voices through the exploration of diverse cultures. The works of art in UMMA’s collection allow the Museum and its communities to revisit unsettled ideas and explore new ways of thinking.

    In Five Years, UMMA Will…

    Have an exhibition and collections installation program that is more tightly focused and deeply researched, with strengths that are well understood internally and externally.

    UMMA’s installations and exhibitions will center on salient topics, developed from interdisciplinary and collaborative research and learning with U-M faculty and students and the broader public. UMMA’s collection will increasingly become an exciting site where visitors can wrestle with ideas and arguments about critical issues in the world today.

    To realize this vision, UMMA must collect and commission new work and reimagine the Museum’s galleries. The Museum will move away from single time and place schemas, instead drawing on connections between places and periods, exploring multiple narratives, and diversifying global art histories with imaginative installation and gallery design. UMMA will improve physical infrastructure and allocate additional time and resources to research of the collection. To broaden access and understanding of UMMA’s collection, the Museum will partner with artists, scholars, students, and community members by participating in local, national, and international art-world conversations via publications, exhibitions, and events.

    Tactics to Shape a Vital Exhibition Program & Collection

    Reimagine the collection galleries to respond to current topics, to express the Museum’s subjectivity and to be in dialogue with visitors and communities
  • Continue the re-envisioning of UMMA’s permanent galleries based on new partnerships and interpretive approaches.
  • Develop strategies to deploy the Power Program for Inuit Art consistently, demonstrating its relationships to a variety of different art historical narratives.
  • Experiment with museum activities and exhibition and installation timelines that increase organizational capacity.
  • Build on UMMA’s dynamic exhibition program to engage all audiences
  • Co-author major exhibitions with external partners.
  • In the UMMA exhibition program, prioritize Michigan artists among U.S. artists and African, Asian, and Inuit artists among international artists.
  • Develop more flexible physical and design resources for transforming exhibition galleries.
  • Build global awareness of UMMA’s program & collection
  • Participate in regional, national, and global museum networks that deepen knowledge, forge new partnerships and advance UMMA’s reputation.
  • Host one to three national programs on topics where UMMA has special expertise.
  • Develop a sustainable, ongoing publication program for major exhibitions.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive, evolving collections plan
  • Conduct a broad collections inventory to identify strengths, weaknesses, and distinctive qualities of the collection, including areas and objects frequently used in teaching and learning. Assess and make public representation of art and artists across the collection.
  • Establish and pursue a target percentage for representation of BIPOC-related themes in works on display and new Museum acquisitions, featuring those of historically underrepresented ethnicities, gender identities, and sexualities.
  • Actively seek student and community input in the development of a collections and new acquisitions plan.
  • Create and convene a Collection Committee to develop and implement a long-term deaccessioning plan.
  • Streamline the gifts of art process to better serve donors and UMMA.
  • Practice respectful and responsible stewardship through a practical, replicable, and cost-effective preventative conservation strategy plan.

    View a printable PDF version of UMMA’s 2022-2027 strategic plan.

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