Considering a Career in Museums? Here’s How Much Money You Can Expect to Make in Dozens of Different Roles

On average, only 11 museum positions' average salaries decreased last year, according to a new survey.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

After a turbulent year marked by the pandemic and social-justice uprisings, how have salaries in the museum industry changed? According to the just-released salary report from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), the answer is: not much.

Overall, the jobs earning the highest salaries remained consistent year over year, with directors pulling in $320,000 on average per year; chief operating officers earning $183,700; and chief curators earning $158,500. The director of finance role saw its average salary leap 14 percent year over year, to $158,700 in 2020.

The data in the report—compiled from 207 member museums located in Canada, Mexico, and the United States—offers a sense of how individual jobs were affected by the COVID-19 health crisis and months of forced closure. But since many institutions’ fiscal year begins July 1 or later, the 2020 data may not encompass the full impact of the pandemic. Also, crucially, the report does not factor in furloughs or layoffs, which were rampant in the sector last year.

As in earlier years, the lower end of the scale is dominated by visitor-facing jobs: volunteer coordinators brought in an average of $50,400, while museum security guards averaged $39,300 (a 10 percent increase from the 2019 average) and visitor services associates made $31,600. (Notably, these are also the roles most directly affected by museum closures.)

Among the 151 museums that responded to the AAMD survey in both 2019 and 2020, the Western and Mountain Plains regions experienced the greatest change in salaries year over year, with a decline of up to 2.1 percent. These regions were also among the hardest hit by the pandemic, based on total cases as a percentage of the population.

Graph courtesy of AAMD and Stax Inc.

Graph courtesy of AAMD and Stax Inc.

This is the 36th annual survey conducted by the AAMD, which has been making the data public since 2017 in an effort to increase transparency in the field. Of the 220 museums surveyed, 207—or 94 percent—responded. The report notes that not all museums answered every question.

Salary inconsistencies are rampant in the arts sector. Earlier this year, Arnet News Pro conducted a study of gallery dealers and found that commercial salaries were not necessarily much higher than those in the nonprofit sector. While executive salaries reach into the six-to-seven-figure range, the median salary for those who identified as a gallery owner, director, or partner was about $65,000, and those who identified as gallery assistants hit a ceiling of $35,000.

Low wages and long hours have, some say, already led to a brain drain in the museum sector.

Listed below are the mean salary figures for all jobs listed in the 2021 AAMD report, from highest to lowest. (When titles are broken up into As and Bs, such as with “Finance A” and “Finance B,” the As are the position within a department with more responsibility.) The figures listed in parentheses are the mean salaries from last year’s report (FY 2019)—of the 52 jobs listed, only 11 salaries decreased, based on the report.

 

  • ↑ Museum Directors: $320,600 ($317,500)
  • ↓ Deputy Director: $177,200 ($184,200)
  • ↓ Chief Operating Officer: $183,700 ($184,200)
  • ↑ Chief Curator / Director of Curatorial Affairs / Curator A: $158,500 ($150,200)
  • ↓ Director of Development / Development A: $142,500 ($146,600)
  • ↑ Director of Finance / Finance A: $158,700 ($139,100)
  • ↑ Director of External Affairs: $137,400 ($133,900)
  • ↑ Director of Information Systems / Chief Information Officer: $126,300 ($123,800)
  • ↑ Chief Conservator / Conservator A: $124,000 ($123,800)
  • ↑ Human Resources Director: $112,800 ($112,500)
  • ↑ Director, Planned Giving / Institutional Giving: $112,600 ($107,600)
  • ↑ Senior Curator / Curator of Special Collections Area / Curator B: $106,300 ($105,300)
  • ↓ Curator of Exhibitions / Curator C: $99,400 ($99,700)
  • ↑ Senior Conservator / Conservator B: $96,900 ($94,600)
  • ↑ Marketing Director: $98,000 ($91,300)
  • ↓ Director of Education / Curator of Education / Education A: $88,500 ($91,300)
  • ↑ Facilities Director / Building Manager / Operations Manager: $90,000 ($86,700) 11 percent increase
  • ↓ Systems Manager / Technology Director / Director of New Media:  $88,500 ($91,200)
  • ↓ Director of Finance / Finance B:  $85,900 ($87,000)
  • ↑ Engineering Manager: $88,300 ($85,900)
  • ↑ Editor / Director of Publications: $87,500 ($82,800)
  • ↑ Head Librarian / Librarian A: $81,900 ($78,700)
  • ↑ Grant Manager / Institutional Giving Manager / Development B: $78,800 ($77,400)
  • ↑ Associate Curator / Curator D: $76,200 ($72,700)
  • ↑ Public Relations Officer: $75,900 ($72,200)
  • ↑ Web Manager: $75,600 ($72,800)
  • ↑ Chief of Security: $75,000 ($74,500)
  • ↑ Exhibition Designer: $74,400 ($72,400)
  • ↑ Associate Conservator / Conservator C: $71,000 ($67,900)
  • ↑ Registrar A: $70,800 ($70,000)
  • ↑ Museum Store Manager: $68,500 ($67,200)
  • ↑ Chief Preparator / Preparator A: $66,700 ($64,400)
  • ↓ Special Events Manager: $65,000 ($66,000)
  • ↑ Assistant To Director: $64,800 ($61,300)
  • ↑ Photographer: $64,600 ($62,700)
  • ↑ Development Associate / Development C: $63,000 ($60,400)
  • ↑ Associate Librarian / Librarian B: $62,900 ($61,300)
  • ↓ Graphic Designer: $60,200 ($61,200)
  • ↓ Associate Educator / Educator B: $60,200 ($61,100)
  • ↑ Assistant Curator / Curator E: $59,600 ($57,200)
  • ↑ Associate Registrar / Registrar B: $58,900 ($57,500)
  • ↑ New Media Manager: $57,900 ($56,700)
  • ↑ Associate Librarian / Librarian C: $55,800 ($50,500)
  • ↑ Assistant Registrar / Registrar C: $52,300 ($48,300)
  • ↑ Assistant Educator / Educator C: $51,100 ($47,100)
  • ↓ Volunteer Coordinator: $50,400 ($51,100)
  • ↑ Associate Preparator / Preparator B: $49,100 ($48,600)
  • ↑ Curator Assistant: $48,500 ($46,200)
  • ↑ Membership Assistant: $46,300 ($45,700)
  • ↑ Education Assistant: $41,700 ($40,300)
  • ↑ Museum Security Officer / Museum Security Guard: $39,300 ($35,700)
  • ↓ Visitor Services Associate: $31,600 ($32,600)

Download the full report at AAMD.org


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