After years of resisting calls for its removal, New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) has asked the city to dislodge from its front steps an equestrian monument to Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth US president, which depicts him charging forward, and towering over two mostly nude figures, one Black and one Indigenous.
In a statement dated June 2020 sent to museum staff, posted on the museum’s website, Ellen Futter, president of the institution’s board, said, “As we strive to advance our institution’s, our City’s, and our country’s passionate quest for racial justice, we believe that removing the statue will be a symbol of progress and of our commitment to build and sustain an inclusive and equitable Museum community and broader society.” (After the announcement President Donald Trump tweeted, “Ridiculous, don’t do it!”)
Might this concession be a harbinger of other changes ahead for American museums? How can institutions whose leadership is often overwhelmingly White rethink their staffing, collections and exhibitions, much less move toward more truly equitable governance? Or, some ask, should museums continue to exist in anything like their current form?