Art Market

POWarts Survey Aims to Bring Transparency to Art World Salaries

Anna Louie Sussman
Feb 6, 2018 7:00PM
Elmgreen & Dragset
Temptation , 2012
Cortesi Gallery

POWarts, the Professional Organization for Women in the Arts, launched a new salary survey Tuesday that aims to bring transparency and data to an industry short on both.

The survey, which is targeted at art industry workers of all genders, asks for information on compensation, job title, what types of tasks and responsibilities workers engage in, and benefits and other job-related data. There is also a section for demographic information, such as age, gender, and race.

The survey is not so much about exposing a wage gap between women and men. Rather, it serves as a benchmarking exercise intended to shed light on the wide variation in compensation practices and job roles and responsibilities in the art industry, to help both workers and employers situate themselves, said POWarts founder and chairman Sara Kay.

“There’s no question that there’s a pay disparity…this is not news to us,” Kay said. “This salary survey is definitely not just for women. I opened a gallery in September, and of course I want to have the best talent.…As an employer, I need to know that what we’re offering is competitive.”

POWarts steering committee member Kristen Becker, director of museum engagement at Marianne Boesky Gallery, said initial discussions among steering committee members about the survey revealed different practices in compensation and benefits, depending on which corner of the art industry members hailed from. For example, at a gallery, it is common to receive an in-kind gift of art as an end-of-year bonus, she said. That gallery worker may, however, have to negotiate for dental and vision coverage as part of their benefits package, aspects of compensation that are more standard at non-profit organizations.

Becker, who is helping spearhead the survey, said she was using her career security to start a conversation about compensation that, perhaps, younger workers might not be comfortable having. She cited her own earlier discomfort with discussing her salary, until she was in her early thirties and had a network of trusted and dear friends and colleagues with whom she could speak frankly about what they earned.

“I think people feel like revealing that type of information is quite personal, and can leave you very vulnerable,” Becker said. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m very comfortable having those conversations, and I don’t feel there’s any possibility for retribution for having this public dialogue.” She added she was also keen to learn more about how the many self-employed or freelance workers in the art industry—say, curators who also write and edit to supplement their income—make a living and divide their time among multiple roles.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks job and salary data in arts occupations on a national basis, it does not have the kind of detailed information queried in the survey. Last year the Trump administration announced it was rolling back an Obama-era federal initiative to require employers with 100 or more workers to report salary data by race, gender, and ethnicity. That regulation would have left much of the art industry untouched, anyway: The dealer sector, for example, is largely made up of small businesses, according to UBS and Art Basel’s The Art Market | 2017, which found that 82% of the more than 1,100 dealers surveyed had fewer than 10 employees.

Kay said other outside sources of data such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor also didn’t quite capture the nuances of the art industry, which she called a “very unique and very strange one,” that encompasses all kinds of businesses and nonprofit organizations, from large auction houses to sole-proprietor dealerships to major museums to mid-sized nonprofits. More broadly, people in the lightly regulated, relationship-based industry tend to emphasize discretion.

“We’re in a very opaque industry that by and large prides itself on being a very opaque industry,” said Kay.

Once the survey is completed on March 15th, POWarts, which is volunteer-run, will work with two economists, Maricar Mabutas and Ging Cee Ng, to analyze the responses (both of them are women who are also volunteering their time). The data will dictate resulting action items and programming to accompany the release of the findings, likely in April or May.  

Kay and Becker said they will disseminate the survey through their members, who are located nationwide, although they cluster in the tri-state area. They will also leverage the professional and social networks of their steering committee, such as professional organizations to which they belong, organizations with whom POWarts has partnered, alumni networks, and the like. They are hoping for at least a thousand responses, although Kay said the number could far exceed that, based on her experience when she first started POWarts 10 years ago with five other women. Between the five of them spreading the word, she said, they had 500 women show up at their launch event.

Anna Louie Sussman

The survey is available on POWarts website.