Inside Hushed Museum Hallways, a Rumble Over Pay Grows Louder | Modern Society of USA

Inside Hushed Museum Hallways, a Rumble Over Pay Grows Louder

Inside Hushed Museum Hallways, a Rumble Over Pay Grows Louder

Salary concerns at museums nationwide were given a viral boost over the last few weeks when a Google spreadsheet of job titles and salary information, race and gender caught fire. Michelle Fisher, a curator in Boston, said she and colleagues in the art world came up with the idea over drinks at the end of May, and she put the spreadsheet together on her way home that night.

The spreadsheet now has nearly 3,000 entries from museums and galleries around the country, with data including: an assistant conservator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with 19 years in the field ($60,000); a collections assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with 10 years’ experience ($45,000); and a few curatorial assistants at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan with salaries of $40,000 to $46,000. The positions in Los Angeles and Philadelphia required a master’s degree, according to the spreadsheet, and for the Whitney jobs, a master’s was preferred.

The spreadsheet includes the pay packages of about two dozen museum leaders, based on publicly available tax filings, to highlight what organizers called the “gulf” between executive and staff pay. It shows museum directors making nearly $700,000 at the Philadelphia Museum and more than $1 million at the Whitney, which is in line with what major museums pay.

The staff salaries on the spreadsheet are self-reported, making it difficult to draw conclusions about particular jobs or institutions. The Philadelphia Museum said it “works very hard to ensure that wages and the overall compensation package are competitive.” The Whitney disputed the entry for its curatorial assistants, saying the job pays $50,000 to $55,000, plus overtime.

But there is little question that the spreadsheet has brought attention to the issue of pay. So the group released another spreadsheet last week to document — and protest — unpaid internships.

“The numbers are all over the map, but one thing is really clear and it’s that they’re small,” Ms. Fisher said. “I don’t know if I could counsel somebody now and say, this is a sustainable way to live.”

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