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.