Archive for April, 2010

Beyond Wall Street:

April 26, 2010

Executive Salaries in the Arts

A topic that has been sharply focused upon within the boundaries of the financial industry, lavish salaries and bonuses, is now coming under greater scrutiny in the non-profit art world.  The subject is not new, but the top-heavy structures of some cultural not-for-profits appears even more unseemly in these times.  The art blogs and such have been pointing to this phenomena for some time, but mainstream media like the New York Times, and the IRS as well, are now starting to look at the issue.

In apparent response to questions about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s highly compensated executives, amid the lay off of about 200 employees, Chairman James Houghton said, “We want to keep the best people — it’s very simple,”  New York Times 4/25/2010.   According to the same piece, upon his retirement in 2006 Philippe de Montebello received a $3.25 million bonus.  One may wonder how Mr. Houghton and his fellow Board members calculate who comprises the “best people” for the museum and how this relates to the overall staff compensation structure.

One argument put forth has been that these well-paid non-profit executives bring in more donations.  One problem is, what volume of those donations are diverted towards paying that very executive’s salary and bonuses?  No doubt that the administration of a large museum is not a simple job, but it seems fundamental that the paycheck of a head of a “non-profit” should not draw significant funds away from the very institution.

In a broader perspective, a multitude of issues are obviously involved, including the lack of significant government funding for the arts in general–but it seems like there must be a more egalitarian approach to pay scales in our cultural institutions.  This is particularly significant because non-profit is essentially a tax status, and the organizations that claim to be non-profits derive benefits from the public (the tax payer) in this way.  Although some have decried the publication of individual’s salaries, in light of the benefit given to these organizations, transparency to the public should be open and expected.

A few incidental numbers:

Museum of Modern Art Director, Glen Lowry:  $2.7 million + bonuses & benefits (through June 2008, since reduced).  Mr. Lowry reportedly earned $1.32 million in 2009 (through June).

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Director Michael Govan, $1 million (2006).

The financially troubled Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, reduced its staff by 20%.  In 2007 (fiscal) it’s then director was reportedly paid $494,474.  Controversial new director, Jeffrey Deitch, has apparently complained, to a degree, about his own salary.

Art Institute of Chicago, President James Cuno received $626,175 for 2009, an increase of 46%.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Director Malcolm Rogers received $719,621, an increase of 23 percent, but seems a veritable bargain compared to the executives of other large art institutions.

Top leadership at the Getty Museum took pay cuts last July, specified in its online disclosure, here.  According to the documentation, former director received total compensation of $891,114 for the relevant period.  Acting Director David Bomford received $247,499 total compensation.

Selected References:

Reducing Pay for New York Cultural Executives

Financially strapped MOCA announces layoffs

Museum of Modern Art’s Lowry Earned $1.32 Million in 2008-2009

74 Are Laid Off at Met Museum; More May Follow

Deitch walks back comments on selling art as MOCA director

Interview Scratched: My Questions for Jeffrey Deitch Go Unanswered / CultureGrrl

Getty Compensation Disclosure 2010

Major Earners in the Cultural World