Earlier this year, speculation swirled around whether the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) would be forced to merge with another institution to survive — the latest episode in an ongoing drama, five years and counting, borne out of the museum’s financially precarious situation. But it turns out that while curators were being fired, while trustees were alternately defecting and trying to figure out how to save the museum, Jeffrey Deitch, MOCA’s current and controversial director was making $916,000.
That’s the word from Bloomberg Businessweek, which published an article today featuring a pretty extensive rundown of how much top arts executives made (including salary, retirement, and other benefits) in cities across the US in 2011 (the most recent year for which complete tax data is available). The numbers are, in a word, high … and therefore depressing (unless you’re a top arts exec yourself, or have plans to become one). Here’s a sampler.
- Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts: $1.8 million
- Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): $1.8 million
- Thomas Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: $1.1 million
- Emily Rafferty, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: $1.6 million
- Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: $1.4 million
- Michael Govan, CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: $1.3 million (in 2012)
- James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust: $1.1 million (in 2012)
That’s some serious money — although it is in line with what executives and other high-level officers make at many big-name nonprofit groups. But does the fact that it’s common practice make it acceptable, particularly when a museum like MOCA is facing a fiscal crisis, or museums like MoMA and its sister institution, MoMA PS1, continue to offer unpaid internships? (And speaking of MoMA, the museum was, for years, paying Lowry even more than it disclosed.) These figures also don’t include other perks, such as a free apartment in New York, where a person would typically spend a large portion of his income on rent.
Some people defend the high pay, saying that the arts administrators deserve it for being extremely qualified — “valuable commodit[ies],” in the words of Melissa Berman, president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, in the Bloomberg Businessweek piece. The problem, however, is that the market establishes that value, and continues to edge it upwards while the salaries of many lower-level nonprofit workers scales downwards.
Writer Dan Pallotta defends the practice, but he actually got to the heart of the issue when he told Bloomberg News,
We have this total double standard that extends beyond compensation issue where we blame capitalism for creating these huge inequities in our society and then refuse to allow the nonprofit sector to use the tools of capitalism to rectify the situation.
Pallotta has a point — but all it points to is the larger inequity and brokenness of the system. If top museums need to offer their directors more than $1 million a year to stay competitive, then we should probably rethink what exactly competitive means.