Though incremental improvements have been made in recent decades, women remain substantially underrepresented at museums in North America, according to a new report commissioned by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). The study found that women held 42.6% of art museum directorships and, most notably, that female art museum directors are paid 79 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, with the gap (and relative underrepresentation) widening in correlation with institutional size. The results indicate that smaller institutions tend to be most progressive in terms of hiring women directors and compensation equality: AAMD member museums with budgets under $15 million reported that female directors average $1.02 for every dollar earned by male directors. That this is constitutive of the overwhelming majority of museums in the US — three-quarters of AAMD membership — does not diminish from the substantial inequality observed at the largest institutions, where compensation is highest and leadership visibility tends to have broader implications.
In their Friday story on the survey’s release, the New York Times observes that although evidence for structural barriers remains, some female museum executives have been reluctant to take on certain roles. The Times quotes Kathy Halbreich, the MoMA curator and former director of the Walker Art Center, stating that Ann Philbin of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Lisa Phillips of the New Museum have all “been approached by bigger institutions, and out of a great sense of mission and self-awareness has decided that where they are is where they’re happy.”
Though the whole “female directors: they’re not structurally excluded, just on to something!” anecdotal approach to providing context to these findings is kind of odd, the material unearthed is fairly revealing. One additional bit of this hedging comes from Sarah James, of the executive search firm Phillips Oppenheim, who delivers a Guggenheim-sized nugget about just how undesirable current director Richard Armstrong’s job was:
Ms. James, the recruiter, said she had a difficult time getting women interested in the Guggenheim director’s job in 2008, which called for managing its institutions around the globe. “We heard from them that it seemed like an empire,” she said.
The report is accessible in full here.
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