How Much Does a Curator Earn? New Study Calls For Art World Pay Transparency

The Professional Organization for Women in the Arts’s salary survey suggests that a master’s degree might not be the key to success

Courtesy: Professional Organization for Women in the Arts

Courtesy: Professional Organization for Women in the Arts

A new study has shed light on art world salaries. The Professional Organization for Women in the Arts’s first POWarts Salary Survey draws on data from a study sample of 997 art workers (from 2,551 respondents) – both men and women – in for-profit and non-profit outfits in the US. Its findings call for salary transparency in the art world, which has long remained opaque.

One data point from the study – carried out last year via an online questionnaire – suggests that a master’s degree might not be the immediate key to success in the arts, as some have regarded it to be. The survey found that it did not markedly improve salaries – comparing a median of USD$62,000 earnings for those with a master’s degree, with USD$60,000 with a bachelor’s degree. The median for those holding a doctorate was USD$73,500. ‘A Master’s degree may be the new baseline for arts professionals,’ the study says, ‘but it doesn’t have a substantial impact on average salary.’

However, respondents to the survey held educational qualifications distinctly higher than the national average. Just 0.9% did not have a bachelor’s degree. More than 7% held a doctorate, and 58.38% had a master’s. By comparison, postgraduate degrees account for just 8.5% in the country at large.

Participants supplied information on compensation, roles, responsibilities and benefits – alongside age, gender and race (89.27% of participants were women). The study surveyed the salaries for curatorial positions, which ranged from a median salary of USD$46,000 for a curatorial assistant through to USD$73,000 for a curator.

The study found a comparable median starting salary between the the for-profit and nonprofit sectors – USD$36,750 at the former and USD$35,500 at the latter. But when looking at the median salary via age group, discrepancies emerged: at the 55-64 age bracket, it increased to USD$132,500 at for-profit outfits and USD$81,000 at nonprofits.

Details around pay remain a sensitive subject, with 1,019 anonymous respondents to the survey declining to disclose their salaries. The study follows the recent circulation of a Google spreadsheet in which thousands of art workers anonymously shared their salaries, revealing discrepancies in pay across institutions, roles and countries. The creator of the spreadsheet, the curator Michelle Millar Fisher told frieze: ‘In the US there’s a real culture of fear in talking about this’.

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