How to DEAI the Museum Budget

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

September 13, 2023

Knowing there can be a gap between the museum budget and its values, it is important for us to proactively evaluate the operating budget and revise it in accordance with what the museum values.

Building upon the concept that a museum’s budget is a direct reflection of what the museum values in What a Museum Budget Says About Museum Values, last week’s post How to Evaluate the Museum Operating Budget shared the basics for how to evaluate the museum operating budget. 

This week we will learn how to use the tenets of Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) to help inform—and perhaps reform—the museum operating budget.

Why Redo the Budget?

Think about how much has changed in just the last ten years. From innovative technology, to global disasters, to newly realized values with a commitment to do better, there are several reasons as to why we should more proactively overhaul our museum budget. 

Here are a few of the main budget redo reasons:

  • Innovative technology
  • Changing audience engagement and expectations
  • Changing audience demographics and needs
  • Global disasters
  • Changing/realized values
  • Rapidly changing resources

For example, when Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) initiatives were introduced as a formalized program concept, it became apparent to many of us that this initiative (just like all initiatives) needs money. But, because DEAI was a newer program concept, it was harder in those first few years for museum leadership to carve out a budget. Now that we better understand DEAI as a permanent program and have a grasp of the resources it takes to run it well, museums are attempting to incorporate it into the budget—which requires reprioritization, because (in many cases) museum funding has not dramatically increased in order to absorb a new program without impact to the rest of the budget line items. 

What is DEAI?

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) are four core value areas that together help to create a fair and inclusive place for everyone.

Diversity at the museum is intentionally seeking to support diverse staff and audiences through diverse hiring activities to diversifying the collection and program offerings. 

Equity at the museum is offering a multitude of ways people can access the collections and museum programming. 

Accessibility at the museum is supporting multiple avenues and parity of experience for staff and attendees. 

Inclusion at the museum is the effort to mitigate harm and promote a sense of belonging to non-dominant-culture communities.

Using the DEAI Lens on the Museum Budget

To use the DEAI lens is to use these value areas and how they can show up in a museum setting as an evaluative comparison to what programs and projects are receiving the most funding.

There are two ways one could go about applying the DEAI lens:

  1. Review each line item and its current budget and ask how that line items supports one or more of the DEAI value areas. Try for clear and obvious ties. Does the budget allocated make sense for that line item both on its own and when taken into account of the other value-supporting line items?
  2. Start with a clean slate by weighing line items without their currently assigned budget. Based on how they each support the DEAI value areas, assign what you think to be an appropriate budget? Does the budget allocated make sense for that line item both on its own and when taken into account of the other value-supporting line items?

Putting it Together: An Example

For example: A museum states their priorities are for improved DEAI; specifically: representation facilitated by curator fellowships and more ethical labor practices. In order to meaningfully support this value, there will likely need to be an increase to the staffing budget in order to account for new positions, salaries that meet market rate and account for annual cost of living and merit increases, and paid internships.


We’re now ready to begin the information gathering stage with an eye toward creating or influencing our next museum budget. Next week’s post will provide strategies to help inform budget creation, critiques, and questions. Even if you are not directly involved with creating the annual budget for the museum, it is important to understand how the budget gets made and how we might be able to influence it.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for How to Create a Value-Informed Budget, presented by Rachael Woody on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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