Million Dollar Salaries at America’s Biggest Museums

Exec Compensation 2011-12A review of the latest Forms 990 of more than two dozen of America’s biggest museums identified the most highly compensated executives in the field.  Among these museums, annual compensation ranged from $228,000 to $1,822,257 and the average was $727,000.  Seven directors earn more than one million dollars per year, as follows:

  • $1,822,257 for Glenn Lowry at the Museum of Modern Art (NY)
  • $1,597,034 for James Duff at the Newseum (DC)
  • $1,551,215 for Emily Rafferty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY)
  • $1,389,652 for John McCarter Jr. at the Field Museum (IL)
  • $1,235,459 for Earl Powell at the National Gallery of Art (DC)
  • $1,070,337 for Ellen Futter of the American Museum of Natural History (NY)
  • $1,029,921 for Michael Govan at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA)

Compensation for executives at major museums does not solely represent their paychecks, but also other benefits and perquisites.  Typical is health insurance and retirement, but often it includes housing, travel expenses for a spouse, an expense account, and club fees. The most unusual one I found is at the Museum of Science in Boston, which provides “college tuition, room, and board” for the children of the president.  If they attended a nearby college, such as Harvard, that’s about $55,000 per year per child.  Anyone want to put themselves up for adoption?

It may be unfair to compare salaries even at the highest levels because these are different types of museums (art vs science) in different places (New York City vs Chicago).  More helpful is to compare how much an executive director has to manage in terms of net assets (if you are responsible for more and bigger facilities than someone else, you should be paid more).  You can also treat compensation as an investment in the executive director and see how well they raised revenue (if you raise more money than someone else, you should be paid more).  Thanks to Excel, we can put all of this together in one chart and see if there are any patterns.Exec Compensation comparison 2011-12

Viola!  Looks like there’s a nice cluster that suggests their compensation is roughly equivalent based on these measures.  There are some outliers, however, with the Newseum at one extreme and the Smithsonian at the other.   They’re both in Washington, DC so there’s no difference in the cost of living, but when you compare the revenue and net assets with compensation, it seems that something is seriously out of whack.

Revenue Net Assets Executive Compensation
Smithsonian Institution $1,315,239,542 $3,039,118,608 $556,562
Newseum $63,696,086 $101,808,035 $1,597,034

Hmm. Perhaps this is a one-time aberration, but I suspect both of these museum boards have some explaining to do.

If you’d like to learn more about the data sources and methodology, take a look at the first post in this series.  And just a warning, this study is limited to the biggest museums in the United States–findings and results for smaller institutions are probably (and appropriately) very different.

2 thoughts on “Million Dollar Salaries at America’s Biggest Museums

  1. Amanda Gustin

    I think it would be interesting as well to do a comparison of the executive compensation as a portion of the overall budget, not just revenue. Comparing their salaries to the salaries of other employees would also be very interesting – but obviously that information is not as readily available.


    1. Max van Balgooy Post author

      Budgets are defined differently, so you’ll need to tell me how you’re defining it. Sometimes a budget consists of both revenues and expenses, and sometimes it’s defined as just the expenses or costs (as in, “what’s the budget for this project?”). In most cases, revenues and expenses are very close to reduce the surplus or deficit, so I’m going to guess that the “compensation as a percent of revenue” will similar to the “compensation as a percent of expenses”–mostly below 1 percent.


Comments are closed.