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New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Director Salaries Come Under Scrutiny as Museums Shed Front Line Workers

An article published in the New York Times today notes that US museum director salaries have not fallen in a manner commensurate with cuts made by the corresponding institutions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Museums across the country were forced to close this past spring to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Though some are just beginning to reopen to the public, many will do so with significantly fewer staff, having furloughed or laid off employees during their closure. Leaders of a number of these institutions have taken pay cuts, but some of these reductions are significantly less than might be expected when compared against the number of low-salaried jobs that have been cut from the cognate museum.

Among those whom critics say have seen comparatively insignificant salary cuts are Daniel Weiss, director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Following the museum’s pandemic closure, Weiss saw his $1.25 million salary slashed by 20 percent; the Met has laid off some 400 employees since March.

Also named as being under scrutiny are Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, who forwent 25 percent of his annual salary, reported to have been $1.4 million in 2018, and Josette Sheeran, head of New York’s Asia Society, who gave up 50 percent of her $937,000 annual salary. The Guggenheim furloughed 92 of its 315 employees in April, while the Asia Society has avoided laying off workers thanks to government loans.

Though the salaries of all of the abovenamed are reported to be within industry norms, the contrast in fortunes between the executive class and those on the front lines bears examining. This is especially true as those occupying the upper ranks are likely to be white, well compensated, and subject only to pay cuts, while those filling out the lower ranks are often BIPOC and are frequently the first to be furloughed or laid off.