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SMU Study Finds Gender Inequality In Art Museum Director’s Salaries

Veniamin Skorodumov

Did you know that less than 43 percent of art museum directors are women? And the female directors, on average, are paid less than their male counterparts?

Those are among the findings of a joint study done by SMU’s National Center for Arts Research and the Association of Art Museum Directors. It found that female directors at museums with budgets of more than $15 million earn 71 cents for every $1 that male directors earn. At the same time, women who run art museums with smaller budgets do earn more than their male counterparts – annually, they earn 2 cents more.

Averaging both groups, though, still leaves a gender gap for female directors of 79 cents for every $1 male directors earn.

For North Texas art museums, the Kimbell is the only one that would be classified a “top” museum, budget-wise. The study notes that across all non-profits with budgets of more than $50 million, women hold only 16 percent of the CEO positions.

The study takes into account other factors besides gender that may have led to the salary disparity. It concludes that the only other relevant influence involves whether a director was promoted from within a museum or hired from without. “External hires” generally get bigger salaries; women are more often promoted from within.

The NCAR/AAMD study says that “advances will continue to be made toward equality.”

The study doesn’t state this explicitly, but the implication raised by the female directors in smaller art museums being paid slightly more is that this is a generational change. In short, these female directors haven’t been in the field long enough -- yet -- to be promoted to the “top” museums. It also suggests that the reason often given for not hiring a female director from outside a museum -- that there’s isn’t a good enough pool of qualified candidates -- will increasingly not reflect reality.

Learn more about the study at KERA’s Art&Seek.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.