Home Arts low salaries continue to hold back the art industry, despite an upbeat salary survey

low salaries continue to hold back the art industry, despite an upbeat salary survey

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According to the conclusions of the first Art Market Salary Report, published in April and compiled by specialist recruitment agency Sophie Macpherson Ltd (SML). “The art world can still be difficult to navigate structurally. Historically, it has been considered a low-wage industry,” says Rosie Allan, Managing Director of SML. “Things seem to have improved.”

The report focuses on the commercial sector where, unsurprisingly, the highest salaries are earned at top international auction houses and contemporary art galleries. Senior auction house specialists receive a base salary of up to £130,000 in the UK and $350,000 in the US, while a senior sales manager at a major gallery in the UK can earn up to £250,000 or $425,000 in the US, excluding bonuses and commissions, according to the report.

The results reveal that staff in the United States are paid significantly more than their British counterparts at all levels. Starting salaries for gallery assistants, for example, are set at £23,000 in the UK, while they start at $40,000 in the US, according to SML.

The SML report provides a business-like insight into salaried employment in the Anglo-American art world. But unlike the recent release Structurally screwed up survey on artists’ pay and conditions, the report does not explore the impact of pay levels on individuals’ ability to maintain a sustainable working life, particularly in the inflation-ridden cities where most are based employers in the art world. How can a starting salary of £23,000 be sustainable in London, where the average rent is now £30,000 a year, according to Rightmove?

Additionally, the report does not contain any data on freelancers or interns. Unpaid internships have long been a notorious scourge in the art world employment landscape. Allan points out that UK law now requires employers to pay interns a minimum wage. But are small actors still exploiting the hopes of graduates to climb the ladder of the art world? “I’m not By the way with a salary at this level,” she says.

Unpaid internships certainly remain a feature of the American commercial gallery scene. Last month, the jobs section of the New York Foundation for the Arts presented internships in the Barro, YveYANG and Van Der Plas galleries in New York. All were unpaid, with college credits – and the name of a gallery on a resume – offered as incentives.

Prestigious places are sometimes the worst

Anonymous Independent Curator

The salaries of curators, writers, researchers and those in more academic positions, many of whom are employed in both the commercial and public sectors, are also not covered in the SML report. An independent curator The arts journal spoken on condition of anonymity earned just over £20,000 last year, or £17,500 overseas. Over the past five years, his annual salary has averaged £24,000. Her work in the UK is 90% in public institutions, with overseas assignments mostly paid for by art fairs, private museums and foundations. The curator says she was only paid £200 for 1,000 words to write an essay for the National Gallery in London. “Prestigious places are sometimes the worst,” she says.

Speaking of the fees paid to him by public institutions, British artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman says that “hardly anything has changed since 1985”, when his work began to be commissioned and exhibited. The artist, whose Tate Britain Winter Commission was a hit with the public in 2020-21, notes how the fee is “constant negotiation.” She adds, “You end up being both a producer and an artist. The amount of time and amount of work it takes to create a work often doesn’t add up.

Arsenic time

The art world is also not well structured to accommodate childcare; private views of early evening, for example, collide with bath time and bedtime – “arsenic time,” as art critic Hettie Judah calls it. According to a recent survey According to consultancy PwC, the gender pay gap in Britain has widened four times faster than in other developed countries, with childcare costs absorbing a third of the average income of one British family against 1% in Germany. Nursery fees in London, for example, often cost at least £100 a day, or £26,000 a year for a five-day week, not including evening care.

As SML’s salary report notes, for higher-level jobs in particular, bonuses and benefits have had to become more competitive, especially when it comes to attracting staff from other industries. “As the cost of living rises, we find that applicants are placing more importance on benefits beyond a base salary,” the report said.

One such benefit is parental leave, and while some companies have been slow to improve their policies, progress has been made by major auction houses. Sotheby’s has doubled its maternity and adoption allowance to six months full pay and since April employees have been able to pay for childcare through a wage sacrifice deal, saving them between 32% and 47% their fees according to their tax bracket. Both Christie’s and Phillips have a comprehensive policy of 16 weeks fully paid maternity/paternity/adoption leave for each employee. At Christie’s, then comes the employee’s “regional maternity policy”.

Phillips offers “the additional option of a flexible working arrangement for the first two months following return from furlough”, according to a spokesperson, while Christie’s offers a “family-friendly return to work” – a four-day week, for eight weeks, on full pay. Christie’s also offers to pay for ten sessions or days of emergency support for children or dependent elderly people. Bonhams, meanwhile, “is currently reviewing its maternity and childcare policy to ensure it provides full support to staff members. We aim to increase our paid maternity/adoption policies across world.

With their large staff and deep pockets, the biggest auction houses are in the best position to offer attractive parental leave policies and, at least initially, to accommodate flexible working. But many small businesses cannot afford to be so generous. The reality of returning to a job in the art world, and in particular the frequent travel and the demands of working outside working hours, can still come as a shock.

A gallery director in London says she devotes 100% of her salary to childcare (80% nanny, 20% childcare). “I have to rely on a nanny due to the demands of art fairs, events and vernissages, so more affordable childcare like full-time daycare or a nanny isn’t suitable,” says- She. The director has just had a second baby and says that she will now, like many others, have to work part-time “because I can’t give both the gallery and my children 100%”.

CO2 emissions from software and hardware, data centers, e-waste and blockchain activities are a major issue for organizations such as Christie’s Pako Dominguez/Alamy Stock Photo

As Christie’s sees a massive increase in IT-related C02 emissions, a cleaner breed of NFT offers hope

Shipping artwork and personnel around the world was once the most problematic source of CO2 emissions at auction houses. Christie’s third edition Environmental impact report, published in April, revealed that it had made dramatic progress in reducing emissions in both of these business areas. But the bad news is that over the same period, IT emissions have increased by 50%, making it the company’s biggest CO2 polluter.

“It breaks down into three or four major areas; sourcing is the most important,” says David Findlay, Project Director of Christie’s Global Operations. He discusses the indirect emissions generated by the auction house’s software and hardware, as well as the services and suppliers needed to maintain them, much of which is outsourced. Findlay says Christie’s data centers, e-waste requirements and blockchain business are the other main areas of concern.

Until last September, when Ethereum launched its more environmentally friendly proof-of-stake protocol, NFTs were considered the worst environmental offender. But Ethereum 2.0 has made transformative CO2 reductions when minting digital tokens. “It’s huge. I hear 95% to 99%,” says Findlay, who praises the Climate Coalition Gallery for recommending Ethereum 2.0 to its 800 members, including Christie’s. Last year, NFT sales at Christie’s increased by 74%, but thanks to new Ethereum technology, emissions fell by 38%, according to the report.

“We’ve made huge gains over the last two or three years. There will be a long tail of incremental reductions in our emissions,” Findlay says. “Every company will face this. We did the big easy stuff first.

Ben Gore, Chief Operating Officer of Christie’s, writes in the report’s foreword: “We expect technology to be a key enabler for future carbon reductions across our operations.” But it now appears that technology is a big part of the problem, as well as the solution. And the full force of AI hasn’t even begun yet.

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