Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Talking about Money – confronting a taboo

Fellow Museos --

The time has come to talk about money in a concrete way. The united museos in France and Canada understand the importance of fighting for fair wages (among other things).

I did a little digging on GuideStar.org after reading this great post at the Center for the Future of Museums. Basically, the mention of museums and finances led me to check out some 990 forms on Guide Star (requires free registration).

Let me just give everyone a quick summary of my findings. Keep in mind, this information is all free and available to the public, because museums are nonprofits.

I used NYC as an example of a large city with many large, famous museums.The spread will obviously look a bit different in other cities. (NB: these numbers are what they earned in 2007, taken from the 2008 990 forms which are the most recent available. These numbers came out before the economy tanked!)

The Director/President/head honcho salary at the following museums*:

Art: MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) - $2,111,000

Science: AMNH (American Museum of Natural History) - $732,000

History: MCNY (Museum of the City of New York) - $259,000

Wow. Check out the discrepancy between different types of museums. Granted, I am sure that if we mapped out visitor numbers, we would see the popularity of the museum is directly proportional to the amount the head honcho makes. And, of course, that makes sense. Analysis of the way people value different types of museums is a post for another day!

But, does looking at these figures make you want to SCREAM, readers? Does anyone feel surprised to know that a museum director in NYC can pull down $2 mil a year? Does that make you look at your own salary and make you question yourself? Some people might look at these figures and see a hope that one day they too could make millions doing what they love. Others wonder how many years it takes to get to the top. Clearly these positions are hard won, but there are real considerations: how many years can you viably spend working for a low salary in a major city center? How long can you support yourself? Your family? And then the fact remains that most people working in museums will never be directors, especially not directors of world renowned institutions. How can we make judgments about where to work and what we are worth if we only know these top salaries?

Here at Museos Unite, we want to gather some real, concrete data about salaries. If you have 30 seconds, please take this survey for us. It is completely anonymous. We ask you to tell us where your salary falls in a range, and where you are and what type of thing you do. We’d like to then take this data and compare it to what the head honchos are making, as well as what the museum is making a year.

“But there are websites like payscale.com and salary.com, Museos Unite,” you say. Oh, we are well aware. But the current numbers that are out there are derived from whatever people input into these big information engines, and it isn't always representative because it's subjective. It doesn't give an accurate picture of what real people are earning in a real market. For example, inputting Kirsten's salary into salary.com indicates that she's earning a salary in the bottom quartile for all museum educators in her area with her level of education and experience. Inputting the same information into payscale.com shows her to be a top earner. Entry level museos who are looking for an accurate idea of what they can make in today's market are not likely to find much usable information out on the internet.

Having concrete numbers gives us power, friends. I am sure you’d love to know if your salary is fair vs. your contemporaries in the field, but you don’t want to start a very private conversation with an acquaintance at a conference.

Well, here is your golden opportunity

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*Note: This article highlights that a third of art museum directors have taken paycuts, including MOMA’s Glenn Lowry. He now makes a bit over $1 million, and is still the industry’s top earner.

Another note: There is also a great post from May 2008 at Young Museum Professionals with fabulous comments on the subject.

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