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.

The controversy highlights poor pay across the board at museums in the UK. Photo: Flickr creative commons.
The controversy highlights poor pay across the board at museums in the UK. Photo: Flickr creative commons.

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).

Tate Britain, London. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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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