Economics USA

Salary cuts for one third of US museum directors

Survey shows widespread pay reductions, hiring freezes and layoffs

new york. A survey of more than 60 major art museums in the US shows that the directors of more than one third have recently taken pay cuts, many of them substantial, and senior staff at most of those institutions have also had their compensation trimmed. The cuts range from salary reductions and forfeiture of bonuses to unpaid leave.

Even where there have not been massive layoffs, hiring freezes leave posts vacant and incentives induce early retirement. In the past year, New York’s Museum of Modern Art has cut its staff from around 850 to 741 through a hiring freeze and natural attrition.

Pay cuts extend to curators and administrators who have had their salaries frozen, their hours reduced, or their employer contributions to insurance and retirement plans cut. But directors of large institutions are still among the highest paid in the culture sector, with packages ranging from low six figures to more than $1m per year.

Among the directors who have taken the largest cuts are those earning the biggest paycheques at the richest institutions. MoMA director Glenn Lowry, the highest paid chief executive of a US art museum, had his salary reduced 15% last year, but his total compensation still topped $1.32m, and will remain above $1m this year even after another 10% cut. Peter Marzio, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, took a voluntary compensation reduction “in excess of 20%”.

James Wood, president and chief executive of the Getty Trust that operates the Getty Museum and other programmes, took a 6% cut as part of an overall 25% reduction in the Getty’s fiscal year 2010 budget. Getty Museum director Michael Brand had his base salary of $545,828 reduced to $513,079, though with benefits his compensation remains nearly $900,000. Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum (Lacma) since 2006, has also been taking home just under $1m a year, but will forego a bonus this year. James Cuno, chief executive of the Art Institute of Chicago, which unveiled a $300m new wing in May, took a 10% cut. But the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has slashed the number of employees, claims not to have reduced salaries or benefits of those who remain.

The director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Doreen Bolger, took a 10% cut, and Gary Vikan of the Walters Art Gallery will take 20 unpaid days this year, equal to about an 8% cut of his compensation of $381,000. The heads of both major museums in Minneapolis also took cuts. Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts gave up 10%, and Olga Viso at the Walker returned 6% last year and 7% this year. Graham Beal, the director of the Detroit Institute of Art, took an 8% cut, and Larry Wheeler, the head of the North Carolina Museum in Raleigh, which closed last month in preparation for an $84m expansion, forfeited a bonus that accounted for 26% of his pay in recent years.

To help make up a nearly $3m operating budget gap, the Huntington Library in Pasadena developed a programme in which staff could take a straight pay reduction, decrease the institution's match to their retirement funds, make a charitable contribution to the Huntington, or a combination of the three. “Notably, more than 100 employees opted to make a charitable contribution, even though a straight salary cut may have provided a better tax benefit,” says president Steven Koblik, who gave up 10% of his own pay. “The cuts were painful, indeed,” he says, “but knowing that everyone was participating and having the option to make a choice made a tremendous difference in terms of morale.”

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City and New York’s Guggenheim and New Museum declined to say if they had trimmed salaries or benefits, which strongly suggests that they have done.

How the axe falls in fiscal year 2010 (information begins 1 July 2009 unless otherwise stated)

Art Institute of Chicago Director James Cuno took a 10% pay cut. All salaries are frozen and employees must take one week unpaid leave by the end of March 2010.

Baltimore Museum of Art Director Doreen Bolger took a 10% pay cut and six deputy directors 5% cuts. Around 80 staff earning $30,000 or more take two weeks unpaid leave.

Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis Director Paul Ha took a 10% salary cut from $170,000 to $153,000, beginning in January and continuing through 2010.

Denver Art Museum Employees had three unpaid days in the fiscal year that ended 30 September, will have no cost-of-living or merit increases for 2010, and three traditionally paid holidays are unpaid days off.

Detroit Institute of Arts Director Graham Beal took an 8% cut and an 18% bonus cut. Others had cuts ranging from 2% to 7% that affected 112 of 196 full-time employees. Pension benefits were modified.

Dia Art Foundation, New York Senior staff had a 4% salary reduction.

Field Museum, Chicago President and chief executive John McCarter Jr voluntarily took a 20% cut in salary for calendar year 2009. Another 50 employees earning $75,000 or more had cuts of 3% to 5%.

J. Paul Getty Trust, Los Angeles President and chief executive James Wood had his 2008 base salary of $728,000 reduced to $684,320 (calendar year 2008: total compensation was $1.11m). Getty Museum director Michael Brand’s salary of $545,828 was reduced to $513,079 plus benefits (2008 compensation was $929,075), and chief investment officer James Williams’ salary of $851,760 was reduced to $800,654 (2008 compensation was $1.14m) and he will not be eligible for a bonus. Though senior staff had salary cuts of 2% to 6%, the pay and benefits of other employees was not reduced.

High Museum of Art, Atlanta Director Michael Shapiro took a 7% pay cut, six senior managers had 6% cuts, and all other employees saw pay reduced 5% from February to May 2009. Salaries were reinstated 1 June but employees must take 13 days unpaid leave in fiscal year 2010.

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Pasadena President Steven Koblik, five directors and the heads of communications, advancement, operations and finance had 10% reductions in compensation, with all other employees taking cuts of 7% to 3.5% based on salary.

Indianapolis Museum of Art Director Maxwell Anderson and ten senior staff made voluntary contributions of 3% of their salaries, and there is a total salary freeze.

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Pension contributions were reduced from 5% to 3%.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston Director Anne Hawley and nine other senior staff had their salaries reduced 5%, end-of-year bonuses were eliminated and an all-staff salary freeze instituted.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan’s salary remains $741,000 plus benefits, the same as last year, but he and president Melody Kanschat declined their bonuses.

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams Modest decrease in medical benefits.

Miami Art Museum Senior management took a 5% reduction in salary, effective April 2009, and all full-time staff take a mandatory one-week furlough.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts Director Kaywin Feldman’s compensation was cut 10% from $415,205 to $375,830 and five division heads had 3% salary reductions.

Morgan Library, New York Staff were required to take 10 days unpaid time off in the summer, and a hiring and salary freeze remain in effect.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Senior staff took a salary cut of at least 5%, other employees agreed to cut pay or hours, and employee benefits were cut.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Director Malcolm Rogers, four deputy directors and the dean of the School of the MFA took a 5% salary cut.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Director Peter Marzio voluntarily took a 4% cut in salary and a reduction of his 2009 bonus by 32% from the previous year. Salaries of $52,000 and more were reduced by 4%, and less than $52,000 by 2%, effective 1 February.

Museum of Modern Art, New York Director Glenn Lowry had a 15% cut in salary and benefits in fiscal year 2009—his total compensation was $1.32m ($674,582 salary, $159,000 bonus, $152,320 benefits, and $336,000 for onsite housing). The salary portion of his pay was further reduced 10% for 2010. Others earning more than $150,000 had reductions of 2% to 10% and increases in their contributions to health insurance.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa 34 directors and managers will take off five days without pay, and 16 employees voluntarily agreed to take between two and five days off without pay in the fiscal year begun 1 April.

New York Historical Society All employees were given four days unpaid leave beginning in January and pension contributions for non-union employees (72% of the staff) were reduced from 7.5% to 3%.

Noguchi Museum, New York Salaries were frozen and the health-care plan modified to trim around 30% of its cost.

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh Director Larry Wheeler did not receive an annual bonus last year or this year, a loss of 26% of his normal compensation. Senior staff had no raises, lost portions of retirement and health benefits, and will be subject to further reductions of 2.5% to 5% if there is a shortfall. The earned-income workforce was cut 25% and hours were reduced.

Philadelphia Art Museum Senior staff took a voluntary salary cut of between 5% and 10% for the most senior. Employee contributions to health insurance were increased and museum contributions to retirement plans reduced.

Salvador Dali Museum, Florida Salaries were frozen and employee contributions to healthcare increased.

Seattle Art Museum Salaried employees took five days of unpaid leave (around 2% of their salaries) in 2009, and 11 senior staff had additional 3% cuts for fiscal year 2010.

Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis Director Olga Viso gave up 6% of her salary and benefits last year and 7% this year. All staff had a five-day furlough in 2009 and there is a salary and wage freeze for 2010.

Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Director Gary Vikan will take 20 days unpaid leave, two deputy directors 10 days, and six division directors five days.

More from The Art Newspaper


25 Jul 10
17:33 CET


I have done coaching with a few museum employees-yes, bonuses are on $ generated by fundraising...Their salaries aren't great for what they do. Paycuts will serve to discourage potential budding Curators and others in Arts field-in Museums. As a Museum goer, I'm saddened this area is so little appreciated. Both my clients left the Museum field for for-profit companies-One in NY, other in Baltimore where I'm based.

8 Nov 09
2:39 CET


I'd assume that Govan's bonus is based off of fund-raising goals--an easily quantifiable indicator of performance (arguably the most important for a museum director). In his three years there he has supposedly raised over $250 million, significantly more than his predecessors. I would be surprised if other positions, such a curatorial departments, had any sort of bonus in their compensation structure.

2 Nov 09
17:38 CET


Yes, Jennifer, strange. I wonder what the bonus structure is based on. The cuts look drastic in this article, but I wonder how these numbers compare to pay/benefit cuts in other industries.

10 Oct 09
19:18 CET


What is surprising to me here is not so much that there have been salary cuts - it's a story I've been following for awhile - but rather, that the compensation for museum employees can include a bonus structure. In an area that is typically non-profit, I find this a little disconcerting.

Submit a comment

All comments are moderated. If you would like your comment to be approved, please use your real name, not a pseudonym. We ask for your email address in case we wish to contact you - it will not be made public and we do not use it for any other purpose.


Want to write a longer comment to this article? Email


Share this