Labor Leaders Are Slamming the Tate After It Posted a ‘Head of Coffee’ Job Vacancy That Pays More Than the Average Curatorial Salary
Union officials say skilled cultural workers are paid far too little.
British trade-union officials blasted the Tate this week after the museum put out a job listing for a “head of coffee” position that pays nearly £40,000 ($52,000)—a figure that surpasses the average curatorial salary.
Alan Leighton, the national secretary of the Propsect union, which represents 145,000 workers in a variety of industries, told the Guardian that the job posting stressed the comparatively meager salaries taken home by the UK’s cultural workers.
“The pay discrepancy highlighted is a stark reminder, not that the head of coffee is paid too much but that highly qualified museum professionals are paid far too little,” he told the newspaper.
According to a UK job-postings website, the annual salary for assistant curators ranges from £18,000 to £25,000 ($25,000 to $32,000). Higher-level curators are paid between £26,000 and £35,000 ($34,000 to $45,000), and lead curators and heads of collections start at around £40,000 ($52,000). According to information available on Glassdoor, the average curatorial salary in London is around £37,000 ($49,000).
The museum is now defending itself, arguing that the head of coffee’s position is comparable to that of a curatorial team leader, with a range of responsibilities. “It’s unfair to compare a head of department with a curatorial role of a different level,” the museum said.
In a statement provided to the Guardian, Tate said its lead curators earned between £40,000 and £50,000 ($52,000 and $65,000).
Available figures indicate that average curatorial salaries in North America tend to be slightly higher than those in the UK. A 2019 study by the Association of Art Museum Directors analyzing the pay rates at 208 museums in the US and Canada found that the mean salary for a chief curator was $141,804; associate curators were paid just over $70,000; and curatorial assistants took home around $45,000.
Still, US museum employees have been unionizing en masse in recent months. Other grassroots efforts—including a viral Google spreadsheet documenting art-world salaries across the country and a separate call to end unpaid internships—point to a growing concern with poor pay for cultural workers.
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