Museum Boss Salaries: Reduced but Still an Issue Amid Wider Cutbacks

The compensation packages of museum directors are drawing scrutiny as their institutions try to fill budget holes with cutbacks that have included layoffs and furloughs of lesser-paid staffers.Shuttered for months, New York City’s museums have been pressed to cut costs, including the salaries of their top executives, many of whom have taken pay reductions.Credit…David Dee…

Museum Boss Salaries: Reduced but Still an Issue Amid Wider Cutbacks

The compensation packages of museum directors are drawing scrutiny as their institutions try to fill budget holes with cutbacks that have included layoffs and furloughs of lesser-paid staffers.Shuttered for months, New York City’s museums have been pressed to cut costs, including the salaries of their top executives, many of whom have taken pay reductions.Credit…David Dee Delgado/Getty ImagesAug. 18, 2020Many of New York’s museum leaders have taken pay cuts to offset some of the financial damage their institutions are suffering from their Covid-related closures. But at a time when museums are facing their most severe financial downturn in decades, one that has led some to make painful cuts in staff, critics are questioning whether such reductions go far enough.At the Guggenheim, the director, Richard Armstrong, took a 25 percent cut in pay. But the group A Better Guggenheim — made up of current and former staff members — in a July 23 Instagram post called on Mr. Armstrong, who earned $1.4 million a year in compensation in 2018, to take a deeper cut “instead of continuing to target the museum’s most vulnerable staff” with furloughs.In June, after the Asia Society considered furloughs that were later avoided, staff members complained in a letter to the board that the 50 percent pay cut taken by its president and chief executive, Josette Sheeran, who earned $937,000 in compensation last year, was insufficient.A union leader who represents workers at the New Museum and other institutions said in an interview that it is difficult for museum workers to stomach layoffs when executive salaries still run so high.“When institutions shed these people,” said Maida Rosenstein, president of the union, Local 2110, “and say, ‘We can’t help it because there is a pandemic and we’re not open and we’re losing all of this revenue,’ and then the top guys continue to be in place and earning like a million dollars a year, it’s very concerning.”ImageJosette Sheeran, right, the president and chief executive of the Asia Society, took a 50 percent cut in pay this year, but some staff urged an even deeper reduction in June when the society faced the possibility of furloughing workers.Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York TimesThe pay disparity issue, already simmering in the museum world last year, has bubbled up since the pandemic as critics question whether museums should further curtail executive pay and draw on their endowments to keep their staffs employed.Though museum leaders run large organizations that mirror corporations in their complexity, they are also charities, buoyed by special tax breaks that carry with them additional scrutiny, especially when it comes to compensation.The salaries of museum directors have to be listed on the institution’s tax returns, which show that leaders of a half-dozen major institutions in New York received annual pay packages last year of $1 million or more, even as low-level employees earn as little as $35,000.“The differentials are too large,” said James Abruzzo, a nonprofit compensation consultant. “Boards need to take a more valued approach to how their institutions treat their people.”Of particular note in a year when the killing of George Floyd has led museums to confront accusations of institutional racism, many of the staff reductions have come from the lower-paid ranks where largely white-led institutions have traditionally displayed the most diversity in hiring.At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, where the work force is 43 percent nonwhite, some 48 percent of the 400 staff members cut since March have been people of color.ImageAmong the many museum leaders who took pay cuts was Daniel Weiss, the chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive, who earned $1.25 million in compensation last year, has taken a 20 percent pay cut this year. His compensation had risen by 24 percent from 2018 to 2019, after he became C.E.O. and took on increased responsibilities as the top boss of a museum with total expenses of $491 million last year.At Asia Society, the executive vice president, Tom Na
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