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.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

7 replies on “Here Are Some Arts Executives Who Made Over $1M in 2011”

  1. a salary like this … is ridiculous ! If the money in the world was better distributed …there would be less poverty and frustration and struggle in this crazy system …

  2. It’s a vicious cycle … we want people who can manage large organizations; but because they work for non-profits they get paid 20-40% less than people in similar sized for-profit corporation doing the same job; so they have to be willing to work harder for less money; but we then want them to take pay cuts because we think their salaries are insane; yet we need to attract people who can make 20-40% more in the private sector … and round and round it goes.

    While executive pay is an interesting starting point for a deeper conversation, for me, the conversation needs to center around the role these venerable institutions play in our arts ecosystem. How do they function to keep the art forms they represent alive and thriving? Are they fulfilling that mission? Is that their mission? Are they too big to fail? What would happen to the arts funding community if they failed? Do they take too much of the “private/public funding pie”, leaving smaller organizations to starve?

    We all want a more equitable system, but what does that look like?

    1. Every time I hear about obscene executive pay for arts execs (or any nonprofit execs, actually), I think about the workers who have successfully taken over the factories they work in, and simply replace “worker” with “artist” and “factory” with “gallery”. I hope I live long enough to see the day that these elite institutions are stripped of the privilege that automatically assumes their managers are worthy of so much more compensation that the artists they are supposed to be representing (dead people don’t count). It’s time for living, breathing artists to get a bigger piece of that pie. Maybe it’s time to take over the galleries. That’s what a more equitable system would look like.

  3. Pallotta’s comment is disingenuous at best – he sounds like he’s worked hard at convincing himself of a double-standard that doesn’t actually exist. A double standard only emerges when we blame capitalism for creating huge inequities in society, and then ‘sell out’ at first opportunity – which is exactly what these arts execs are doing. They are the double standard.

    The nonprofit sector shouldn’t ever be using “the tools of capitalism” – it’s called “non profit” for a reason! – and thinking they can be used “to rectify the situation” is delusional. Adopting for-profit shenanigans like obscene executive pay, far above what one needs to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle, doesn’t help the sector, it hurts it. If these execs don’t like what the nonprofit sector can offer them – and rest assured, I believe in a living wage for all, and that most people in the sector, and most artists, are tragically underpaid – then get the fuck out.

    “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde

    1. >> The nonprofit sector shouldn’t ever be using “the tools of capitalism” – it’s called “non profit” for a reason! <<

      What happens to the revenue after expenses is irrelevant to how a company needs to be managed. I remember not too long ago when NFPs were running themselves into the ground, into non-existence, because of a misguided ideal that NFPs should struggle to make ends meet. Does this mean that we don't fight excesses? Of course not. But lets not confuse the matter. Managing a company is managing a company … be it for profit or not.

      Of course someone managing such a large institution is going to get paid a large salary with perks, etc. For me the question is what function do these juggernaut institutions serve in the first place? Certainly they provide something to their funders and patrons. If not, funders would stop funding and patrons would stop going. But do they provide anything to the artists they present? Do they benefit the the arts community at large? Are these benefits outweighed by the size of their budgets, buildings, and assets?

      A long time ago, a performing arts manager I admire was speaking at a symposium about "getting your work shown in and out of NYC," and he just came out and said it: The arts world is made up of a lot of hermetically sealed bubbles. Most artists stand around on the outskirts of these bubbles waiting for an opening. When an opening does appear, a handful of artists get in, the rest remain waiting. Tired of this approach, he took a different approach. He created his own bubble.

      I know artists who self-represent and manage a nice, comfortable life. I know artists who struggle to create their work, and live in squalor.

      I'd like to take your last statement and apply it a bit more broadly. I think everyone needs to evaluate compensation for themselves. Get out. Stay in. Change the game. All good choices.

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