Considering a Job in the Art World? Here’s How Much Art Professionals Actually Make for a Living
A new report lifts the lid on how salaries compare in the U.S. and U.K. for the same positions at auction houses, galleries and advisories.
A new report on salaries within the art market offers insight into how earnings compare between the U.S. and the U.K. across a variety of sub-sectors, including art advisories, auction houses, private galleries, and newly emerging professions related to arts technology.
Salary transparency has come to the fore in recent months, mostly thanks to new legislation in New York and a government pilot scheme in the U.K aimed at tackling the gender pay gap, which have required businesses to share salary ranges in job postings. Still, progress in the art world has been slow, where working conditions are often highly variable and pay conditions even worse.
The report conducted by Sophie Macpherson Ltd (SML), a specialist recruitment agency for the art world, lifts the lid on salaries across a variety of roles. Using data from 2022, it crunched the salaries negotiated by SML on behalf of successful candidates as well as the salary ranges offered by employers as the basis for the report. The researchers supplemented this data by surveying individuals from their wider network and keeping an eye on job postings. Case studies outlining commission rates and bonuses for various mid-level to senior roles are also included.
So, who earns the most in the art world?
Unsurprisingly, auction houses and commercial galleries were found to offer the greatest earning potential for senior employees, especially those working in sales or business development. Base salaries pre-commission were recorded as high as $425,000 in the U.S. or £250,000 (around $312,000) in the U.K. for starting senior employees.
The report also noted a considerable increase in business activity (measured by a growing demand for new employees) in mainland Europe since 2019, the year before the U.K. officially withdrew from the E.U. Meanwhile, employment also grew in the U.S., most notably with an increased demand for art market professionals outside of New York. SML recorded a 200 percent increase in regional searches for new employees, particularly in Los Angeles, where the industry has been rapidly developing in recent years.
The report indicated typical salaries for each role as a range bracketed by an average low-end and an average high-end figure. A cap was not always included for higher-earning roles where the upper limit is tricky to define.
Where are salaries higher?
In keeping with other industries, U.S. salaries within the art market were consistently recorded as being significantly higher than those in the U.K. and have also risen more steeply since the pandemic.
Salaries tended to be more comparable between the U.S. and the U.K. at auction houses, perhaps owing to their status as international businesses often headquartered in Europe. Pay structures did vary significantly however, with the salary attached to a job title seemingly determined by location. For example, specialists in the U.K. can expect a salary range of £38,000–£130,000 ($47,000–$162,000), which is much wider than their U.S. counterparts ($73,000–$100,000) and more or less in line with the salary expectations of a director.
“Where someone might have an effective promotion in terms of title in the U.S., someone in the U.K. may keep one job title for longer, not necessarily moving up in terms of job title but with their salary increasing in step with seniority or remit,” managing director of SML and one of the report’s writers, Rosie Allan, told Artnet News.
Who does the industry value most?
Business roles at auction houses were valued differently depending on the continent. Executive assistants and those working in client development or strategy were relatively higher paid roles in the U.K., whereas auction houses in the U.S. tended to value employees working in either communications or proposals more highly. For example, staff members working on proposals made some of the lowest salaries of around £32,000 ($40,000) in the U.K. compared to a lower bracket of $90,000 in the U.S.
The considerable variation in size across the commercial gallery sector makes it particularly challenging to characterize. In both the U.K. and the U.S., communications directors were among the most highly valued senior employees and could expect to earn as much if not more than those in charge of finance and operations. In the U.K. a director of communication could expect to earn more than a director of exhibitions or artist liaison, although these two roles had the highest potential earnings in the U.S.
To reflect the latest art world trends, the report also included emerging businesses broadly categorized as “arts technology,” including not only those that provide software services but also newer companies that have aided the traditional art world’s transition to digital via NFT platforms or by providing VR hardware. The report noted that accepting a job in a still relatively new industry is always less secure but that this risk was compensated by relatively well paid positions. For example, those working in business development might make £25,000–£60,000 ($31,000–$75,000) in the U.K. and $45,000–$110,000 in the U.S.
The report’s author Allan noted that while salaries within the public culture sector had been addressed in dedicated surveys and reports, very little reporting has so far focused on the art market.
“Transparency feeds into the process of identifying pay gaps which may be the fall-out of hitherto unfair hiring practices/policies,” she said. “Everyone knows from the outset where they stand in terms of offers and expectations before the ball really gets rolling, and employers are less likely to enter into a ‘speculative’ search, instead taking a more considered and strategic approach to advertizing and hiring.
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