Arts Why It Matters How the Director of an Art Museum Is Paid
posted by February 27 at 11:40 AMon
Once during a fellowship with other arts journalists in Washington, D.C., a writer for the Chicago Tribune remarked that what’s challenging about arts reporting is finding the other side.
The National Endowment for the Arts is not a regulator for the field like, say, the Environmental Protection Agency is for its purview, and there are really no non-governmental organizations regulating the activities of museums. The American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors presumably ought to provide checks and balances, but the truth is that they have never been as powerful as the museums themselves. They also refuse to speak publicly about individual museums, and sometimes they don’t react at all, or very slowly, to apparent violations of ethics.
The only organization that occasionally gets involved as a watchdog is the Internal Revenue Service, because IRS laws govern certain aspects of nonprofits, and most museums are nonprofits. One of those aspects is compensation. It’s hard to tell what compels the IRS to get involved, or even when it gets involved—it also does not discuss individual taxpayers publicly. (When I reported that the Museum of Glass in Tacoma was paying its director far above her colleagues at similar museums and in fact more than the vice president of the United States was making, the IRS didn’t seem to get involved, but the director, Josi Callan, left not long after and her successor’s salary was lower; Callan is now heading up EMP.)
On Feb. 16, Stephanie Strom of the NYT reported that Glenn Lowry, the highly paid director of the Museum of Modern Art, was also making millions on the side from a fund directly supported by a few powerful trustees.
Today, Richard Lacayo over at Time details a real-world example of how the trustees’ influence may have been felt in the galleries: the replacement of a lightweight Signac portrait that just happens to be a fractional gift of David Rockefeller, one of the powerful trustees, for Cezanne’s The Bather in “first position” in the galleries—starting the story of modern art, in other words.