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Martin Creed, “Work No.203: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT” (1999) on the façade of Tate Britain (photo by Steve Wilde/Flickr)

In mid June, Tate opened the £260 million (~$344 million) expansion of Tate Modern, the Switch House. In mid August, it posted three job listings for assistant curator positions at Tate Britain and Tate Modern with starting annual salaries of £24,360 (~$32,200). The average monthly rent in London, £1,561 (~$2,065), will gobble up all but £5,628 (~$7,450) — or 23% — of that.

Though Tate’s entry-level assistant curator salary works out to £13 (~$17.20) per hour before taxes, comfortably over the London Living Wage of £9.40 (~$12.44) per hour, it amounts to just half of the average London salary of £48,023 (~$63,500). To close that gap, an up-and-coming Tate curator could supplement her income with a second job as a “team leader” at Tesco — let’s call it a curatorial project if that makes you feel better.

The beginning salaries offered to assistant curators are comically crumby compared to Tate director Nicholas Serota’s annual salary, which is between £165,000 and £170,000 (~$218,000–225,000) — which in turn is nothing compared to the $2.1 million in salary, bonus, and benefits Museum of Modern Art Director Glenn Lowry earned in 2013. And those assistant curators had better climb the corporate ladder quickly if they want to stay in London — last year a study revealed that a Londoner needs to earn a salary of £140,000 (~$185,000) to afford to buy a flat in the city. Perhaps an emerging curator would be better off responding to Tate’s “Head Chef, Kitchen & Bar and Café” job posting, which pays £12,000 (~$15,880) more per year and comes with the possibility of a 10% performance-based bonus.

Maybe President Obama’s controversial off-the-cuff comment about the iffy economics of an art history degree holds water across the pond, too.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

7 replies on “Wanna Be a Tate Curator? Don’t Quit Your Day Job!”

  1. As someone qualified for those positions, I would be very happy to take it over my current part time retail/minimum wage job. That’s the sad reality that’s partially keeping those wages down.

  2. Wages for art-related jobs here in New York are little better. Look, we knew going into the art field that we weren’t going to be gazillionaires, but people still have to eat, have decent living accommodations, and a decent quality of life. I guess if you’re a trust fund baby, the wage doesn’t really matter, but not everyone in the art world was fed with a silver spoon.

    1. “we knew going into the art field that we weren’t going to be gazillionaires”

      Which is why lots of people who want money for their work – many of which are minorities looking to better their quality of life, as apposed to whites who are often in pretty good shape – don’t apply for curatorial positions or want art jobs in the first place.

      I’m critical of all the rhetorical manipulation that goes into decrying the racial demographics of the art world; never do they look at the demographics of applicants of people applying for those very jobs in the first place. Unless there is a noticeable disparity between applicants and job-holders, the allegations of discrimination are misplaced (if not completely dishonest). If these people want more minorities in art jobs, they need to talk minorities into getting humanities degrees (probably more than one) and applying for low-wage jobs in the first place. And they need to ask themselves if they are doing anyone any favors when unionized plumbers in NYC make more than curators.

  3. Broadly it is correct but the average London wage is not £48,000 – it’s £27,000. The curators at these museums are earning more than the average salary for more ‘mature’ positions but crucially, can take their experience and translate it to considerably higher salaries subsequently. If you work in the public arts sector there is an expectation that you will earn less than the commercial but it carries far more kudos.

    1. Mistaking The City Of London for Greater London in the article skews the average salary stat considerably. Very different things.

      It’s difficult to find somewhere to live within an hour’s commute of central London that’s affordable for those on the sort of salaries advertised. House sharing is the norm for most, even if you’re working a nice job in the arts and you’re in your 30’s. I don’t share and the cost cripples me. It’s the cost of accommodation in London that’s the main problem, not Tate as such.

      You are quite correct, the way the national museums are funded restricts salaries. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in central government has a fairly large influence on how pay is awarded. Tate is under pressure from all sides financially to a much greater degree than other national museums as a somewhere that evolves and grows. Acquisition is a much bigger part of Tate than some of the other museums, as well as fulfilling commitments to conserve the national collections of British and modern art.

      I didn’t really think about there being any kudos attached to working in public arts, but maybe there is. Working as an assistant curator at Tate would definitely be a good opportunity if you’re prepared to hack living in London on that sort of salary; possible but not luxurious. Continuing to study your speciality academically at the same time would set you up for more lucrative career later on.

  4. The National Media Museum is currently advertising for an assistant curator at £18500 which, given the required experience and job spec, is insultingly low. To give you an idea, before I left my job as an administrator in 2006 to pursue postgraduate humanities career, I was earning just £1500 less than that.

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