Kim Cook

Arts Administrator Wages: Reaction to the 2013 Salary Survey

Posted by Kim Cook, Jul 26, 2013 0 comments

Kim Cook

kimpic Kim Cook

In reflecting upon the results of the Americans for the Arts salary survey three things arise for me.  The first is the issue of wages.  The second is the issue of demographics; both of which are immediately addressed in the Executive Summary for the piece. The third issue that derives from the first two is the question of relevance.

When we address the first issue, that of wages, the question that surfaces for me is, relative to what?  When we examine our wages in relationship to each other are we perpetuating a construct in which not enough becomes normative?  I am completely alert to the fact that I am constrained when contemplating wages and wage increases for my staff, knowing that each worker will add to a cost structure that is difficult to sustain.  And, if I am not able to pay reasonably well, I am unlikely to attract and retain the talent that will help to create the mission impact my organization aspires to.

Coming back to Local Arts Agency wages relative to other sectors we can make a quick comparison, by using available data on CEO compensation, from Guidestar’s infographic on nonprofit CEO compensation.  We quickly see the Arts Council CEO level of $78,394, differs greatly from other sectors within the nonprofit world:
Science and Technology - $153,424
Health – General and Rehabilitative - $136,436
Medical Research - $125,213
Public, Societal Benefit - $115,461
Social Science Research Institutes - $114,697

When I generate a search on regarding CEO salaries, the median salary result is $751,790.  This brings to mind John Kriedler’s brilliant 1996 series, “Leverage Lost: The Nonprofit Arts in the Post Ford Era” wherein among the many valuable insights of this 3 –part paper he asserts:

While the loss of funding leverage may appear to be an overwhelming problem for nonprofit arts organizations, an even bigger, though less acknowledged, issue is the loss of labor leverage. The most elemental force in the massive growth of arts organizations in the early Ford years was the arrival of a large new generation of artists and other arts workers who were willing to support their work through discounted wages. The continuation of Ford Era nonprofit organizations is, therefore, fundamentally tied to the ongoing availability of this core resource. For two reasons, the outlook is not good for the sustainability of discounted labor: a significant portion of the veteran generation that founded the Ford era organizations is departing, and it is not being adequately replaced by a new generation of discounted labor.

Let’s move on to issue two, that of demographics.  According to the AFTA research, among all full-time employees, 86% of us are Caucasian and 72% of us are female, and our average age is 52.5.  This is stunningly, although not surprisingly, homogeneous.  I recall when working actively in the Hip Hop community with such organizations as Rennie Harris Puremovement, Destiny Arts Center, and others, that I aimed to make myself obsolete, stating openly that I’d like there to be options other than “white ladies over 40” who were trained as arts managers.

The Local Arts Agencies Salaries 2013 research report’s Introductory Letter, signed by President & CEO Robert Lynch and Vice-President of Local Arts Advancement Clayton Lord states:

And yet, there are signs of positive change. Twelve out of the 14 non-CEO roles examined in this research have higher rates of racial/ethnic diversity than the CEO role indicating a possible shift to come as leadership turns over.

I understand the desire and intent to point towards a potentially positive future.  When I unpack the data in the Salary Survey research, I find that with the exception of Operations/Administrative positions where the percentage of Caucasian workers drops to 66% and Facilities Management positions where Caucasians represent 57%,  all job categories have 71% or more Caucasian employees.  In program areas such as Programs/Services/Cultural activities or Arts Education we find Caucasian staffing levels at 80 and 100% respectively.  Thus I would suggest that our efforts to diversify are delinquent.

And that brings me to the third issue, relevance.  If we exist in a realm wherein the economics of foregone wages is a necessary but diminishing strategy, diversity is limited, and, I would also suggest, post-recession realities are challenging the utility and role of intermediaries, then our immediate responsibility lies in asking ourselves what is the contemporary role of a Local Arts Agency?  How we manage within our limitations to offer competitive wages, attract a diverse talent pool, and communicate value will determine the future existence of our agencies.  This is the time to examine, demonstrate, and express our relevance in new and creative ways.

Please login to post comments.