There Are Almost Two Dozen Director Roles Vacant in U.S. Museums Right Now. Why Does Nobody Want Them? | Artnet News (2023)

There are a near-record 10.5 million job vacancies in the United States, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The hiring crunch has left the upper echelons of the art world empty, with almost two dozen openings for what may be the most coveted role in the cultural sector: museum director.

The openings are the product of a perfect storm. There’s a generational shift among leaders sparking a wave of retirements, while controversies, pandemic-induced budget shortfalls, and demands for increased DEAI engagement are pushing other leaders out the door. According to an analysis by Artnet News, no fewer than 22 director positions are currently open at important art institutions across the country.

The organizations seeking new leadership range from some of the country’s largest and wealthiest, like the J. Getty Paul Getty Trust, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to smaller ones that serve as pillars for their local communities, such as the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.

“There is a tremendous amount of leadership transition underway,” said Bruce Thibodeau, president of the Arts Consulting Group, which is currently helping PlayPenn, a Philadelphia incubator for playwrights, find a new artistic director. Many executives who had planned to retire in early 2020 delayed their departures because of the pandemic, he said, but are now leaving their posts alongside those who had originally planned to depart this year. Both groups are “making their transitions simultaneously, which is creating more vacancies than normal.”

The question now is whether there are enough qualified—and, perhaps more importantly, interested—candidates to fill these roles at a time when the job of museum director is considerably less desirable than it used to be.

“People really don’t want to be directors right now because the jobs are emotionally unsustainable and it’s a challenge to navigate the wealth gap between low-paid staff and wealthy trustees,” said Laura Raicovich, a museum executive who recently published a book on the political and economic challenges facing art institutions today.

There Are Almost Two Dozen Director Roles Vacant in U.S. Museums Right Now. Why Does Nobody Want Them? | Artnet News (1)

The Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. Courtesy the Getty Center.

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New Pressures

Oftentimes, the public reads organizational failings as a reflection of bad management. Some museum directors said this leaves them feeling like lightning rods responsible for absorbing shock while the trustees escape scrutiny—despite having the final say in major decisions like acquisitions, workplace policies, and building expansions.

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York is on its second interim director after ousting Caroline Baumann from its top position last year. The Smithsonian had launched an investigation into potential problems regarding the procurement of a dress and venue for Baumann’s 2018 wedding. Two people close to the inquiry told theNew York Times that the investigation turned up evidence of an apparent conflict of interest. Baumann has since rejected the investigation’s findings, calling it a “sham report.”

Newfields in Indiana has had an interim president for nearly nine months since its former leader, Charles Venable, resigned after he was criticized for a job posting that described the museum’s core audience as “white.” Around the same time, SFMOMA’s director Neal Benezra announced that he would be stepping down after the institution completed a major expansion in 2016 and, more recently, faced criticism for its response to George Floyd’s murder and alleged censorship of Black employees. The directors of Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University also left in response to complaints from staff about abusive work environments.

While such controversies can reflect the harsh management philosophies of directors, there is a growing awareness of the pressures directors are under from their boards. Museum experts said that the three-way relationship between staff, leaders, and trustees is more complex than it appears—and contributes to the challenge of the director role.

There Are Almost Two Dozen Director Roles Vacant in U.S. Museums Right Now. Why Does Nobody Want Them? | Artnet News (2)


The Brotherhood, a Philadelphia band, performs in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on July 5, 2020. (Photo by Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“The director serves at the pleasure of the board and there is always a complicated relationship in having to be the visionary who is inspiring trustees but at the same time reporting to them,” said Raicovich, who attributed difficulties to the growing wealth gaps between wealthy board members and everyone else. “I know very few directors who don’t deeply empathize with their staff.”

Over the summer, Timothy Rub, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s director and chief executive officer, announced his plan to retire after 13 years in 2022. More than a year ago, Gail Harrity, who joined the museum in 1997 and became its president and chief operating officer, announced her departure; her role remains unfilled.

While experts say it is not unusual for museum leadership to turn over after the completion of a major capital campaign, the PMA also experienced a turbulent year of employees alleging sexual and physical misconduct against former managers as well as a financial squeeze wrought by the pandemic that resulted in 85 layoffs and more than 40 buyouts.

A Case Study

Philadelphia, a city that has seen leadership turnover at nearly every one of its major cultural organizations over the past year, serves as a valuable case study for what happens when executive turnover meets the financial challenges of the pandemic. “Philadelphia may be the canary in the coal mine,” Raicovich said.

Public spending for the arts was one of the first things to go when the city was facing an estimated $749 million budget shortfall last year. Allocations for the arts through the Philadelphia Culture Fund decreased from more than $3 million to $1 million after cuts, reducing the amount of organizations that received support by nearly 40 percent, according to the city.

In addition to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts lost its museum director, Brooke Davis Anderson, who went to lead a philanthropic fund based in New York. The academy is also searching for a president and chief executive officer.

There Are Almost Two Dozen Director Roles Vacant in U.S. Museums Right Now. Why Does Nobody Want Them? | Artnet News (3)

Samara Golden at work at the Philadelphia Fabric Museum & Workshop.

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“Sometimes individuals determine that their future lies elsewhere,” said Priscilla Luce, interim head of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, which also happens to be searching for its next leader. “I certainly think the stress and strain of Covid-19 has added to the equation.”

But a spate of new hires in Philadelphia also offers a glimpse at what the future of the sector might look like. After a lengthy recruitment process, the African American Museum recently announcedthat Ashley Jordan, previously an executive with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, would become its next president and chief executive.

“There is great opportunity for the next generation of Philadelphia’s museum directors as art history evolves and the status quo is challenged,” said Jordan, who, at 37, belongs to the city’s new cohort of young leaders. Last year, Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art hired Zoë Ryan as its new director; in 2019, the Fabric Workshop & Museum tapped Christina Vassallo, 41, to lead the organization.

New Blood

Both within Philadelphia and elsewhere in the U.S., the majority of museums that have completed their executive searches over the past year have chosen women and BIPOC candidates to lead their organizations. That includes institutions like the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, the Bronx Museum in New York, and the Saint Louis Art Museum in Missouri.

“Directors now have the chance to ask boards about how willing they are to rethink their strategy, especially in the areas of diversity and inclusion,” said Jane Hsu, an associate vice president at the Arts Consulting Group. “Nobody wants to step into a position and realize there is a major issue.”

There Are Almost Two Dozen Director Roles Vacant in U.S. Museums Right Now. Why Does Nobody Want Them? | Artnet News (4)

Harry Philbrick of Philadelphia Contemporary and Christina Vassallo of the Fabric Workshop and Museum, both part of a consortium of Philadelphia arts leaders. Photo: Carlos Avendaño.

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If the trio of new directors in Philadelphia is any indication, the future of museums will be more digital and more collaborative than ever before. All three women are now embarking on projects aimed at expanding their museums online after the pandemic tanked their attendance figures. Their institutions recently received a combined $856,200 in grants from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage meant to help reshape business and revenue models.

The African American Museum’s $256,200 grant will fund two new staff positions responsible for bringing the nonprofit’s exhibitions and programming online. “Young leaders want to help their museums move forward,” Jordan explained. “I’m already feeling a great synergy among us directors in the city of brotherly love.”

The directors have also formed a consortium that helps arts leaders from across the city collaborate. The group has experimented with joint fundraising and programming; it’s now focused on improving communication among institutions and challenging “the values underlying what museums do, who they serve, and how they function,” according to its website.

For now, executive recruiters say that prospective museum directors have the upper hand in negotiations. That type of leverage gives new leaders a chance to challenge board directors and other structural barriers that might have hampered their predecessors.

“It’s a job seeker’s market,” said Hsu, the arts consultant. “You could get some great finalists for a museum job, but maybe they are candidates for multiple other positions.”

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What is the role of director in museum? ›

Directs the museum's operations, to include development, education and public programming, finance, external communications, and staffing. Manages and leads the full-time staff, part-time staff, volunteers, and consultants. writing and developing relationships with foundations, corporations, and individual donors.

What is the difference between a museum curator and director? ›

The face of the museum, the director represents the organization at meetings with the museum's governing body, the business community, and other museums. Meanwhile, museum curators are responsible for caring for the museum's collection.

What is the Indianapolis Museum of Art scandal? ›

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields has edited and apologized for an employment listing that said it was seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.” The museum's director and chief executive, Charles L.

Do art directors work in museums? ›

This also applies to the museum industry. An art director is needed both for the painters themselves to promote their work, and in the gallery, museum, and the center of modern art for working with authors, organizing exhibitions, and adapting the museum space for new projects.

How much do Smithsonian museum directors make? ›

How much does a Director make at Smithsonian Institution in the United States? Average Smithsonian Institution Director yearly pay in the United States is approximately $186,822, which is 88% above the national average.

How hard is it to become a museum director? ›

To become a museum director, you typically need (at least) a Master's degree in museum studies, archaeology, anthropology, public history, public administration, historic preservation, architectural history, or related field and 5+ years of high-level museum management experience.

Who is the highest paid museum curator? ›

MoMA's Glenn Lowry Is Highest Paid Curator.

Where do museum curators get paid the most? ›

The highest paying companies for museum curators are Smithsonian Institution and Stanford University according to our most recent salary estimates.

Do museum curators make money? ›

Salary Ranges for Museum Curators

The salaries of Museum Curators in the US range from $14,860 to $396,665 , with a median salary of $71,351 .

Is art museum attendance declining across the US? ›

Is Art Museum Attendance Declining? According to her article, the National Endowment for the Arts reports that “art museum attendance fell by 6.6%” while the population increased by 31.4% and museums began offering free admission.”

Which museum has stolen artifacts? ›

The British Museum, which houses more than 8 million artifacts like the Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Marbles, possesses the most number of stolen goods, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson argued.

Why did the Art Institute of Indianapolis close? ›

This decision was made for a number of reasons, including a shift in the demand for online programs in higher education and in student populations at the campuses, which have resulted in declining, unsustainable enrollment levels for campus-based programs in these markets.

Are art directors in demand? ›

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 3.8% employment growth for art directors between 2021 and 2031. In that period, an estimated 4,700 jobs should open up. Art directors or creative directors produce artwork for advertising campaigns, magazines, television shows, films, websites or products.

Do art directors make a lot of money? ›

Art Directors earned an average salary of $115,430 in 2021.

What makes a good museum director? ›

Leaders who excel in the small museum environment typically are: Consensus builders. They are always working with board members and a large group of volunteers with strong feelings about the organization. The director must be able to listen and find common ground among a wide range of stakeholders.

How much do Smithsonian security guards make? ›

Average Smithsonian Institution Security Guard yearly pay in the United States is approximately $43,176, which is 43% above the national average. Salary information comes from 13 data points collected directly from employees, users, and past and present job advertisements on Indeed in the past 36 months.

How much does an archivist make at the Smithsonian? ›

How much does an Archivist make at Smithsonian Institution in the United States? Average Smithsonian Institution Archivist yearly pay in the United States is approximately $80,348, which is 56% above the national average.

What is the highest paying job in a museum? ›

What Is The Highest Paying Job In A Museum? The highest-paid museum jobs are director ($293,988 average annual salary), deputy director ($173,572 average salary), and chief operating officer ($172,772 average salary). A part-time, alternative working schedule is required for a visitor services specialist.

Do people who work in museums make a lot of money? ›

The median annual wage for archivists, curators, and museum workers was $50,120 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.

Are museum curators in demand? ›

Job Outlook

Overall employment of archivists, curators, and museum workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 4,700 openings for archivists, curators, and museum workers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Is working in a museum a good job? ›

Museum work can be extremely rewarding, with a large variety of roles for different interests – more than you might imagine. But, the sector is extremely over-subscribed and there is often a lot of competition for paid roles.

Who is the richest museum? ›

Richest museum in the world - Louvre Museum.

What is the boss of a museum called? ›

Introduction. A museum director is equivalent to the chief executive officer of a corporation. The museum director is responsible for the daily operations of the museum, for long-term planning, policies, any research conducted within the museum, and for the museum's fiscal health.

How much does a museum curator make in the US? ›

National estimates for Curators:
Employment (1)Employment RSE (3)Mean annual wage (2)
11,0302.1 %$ 63,880
Mar 31, 2022

What percent of museum curators are white? ›

Museum Curator Statistics By Race

The most common ethnicity among museum curators is White, which makes up 76.3% of all museum curators.

Is it hard to get a job as a museum curator? ›

To become a collection manager or a curatorial assistant, a master's degree is required. To become a curator at a national museum, a PhD is required, as is about five years of field experience. The market is competitive, and academic standards are very high.

Are museum directors Rich? ›

While some museum directors do earn high salaries, many do not and most are not rich. Museum directors are responsible for the overall management of their institution. This includes fundraising, developing and executing plans and budgets, overseeing curatorial staff, and working with Board of Trustees.

How much does a museum director earn in New York? ›

The average Museum Director in New York City, NY makes $83,508, 5% above the national average Museum Director salary of $79,896. This pay is 17% lower than the combined average salaries of other metros San Francisco, CA, Dallas, TX and Seattle, WA.

What is the highest paying history jobs? ›

20 high-paying history jobs
  • Park ranger.
  • Documentary filmmaker.
  • College professor.
  • Museum curator.
  • Foreign language professor.
  • Librarian.
  • Museum archivist.
  • Writer.
4 days ago

What city has the most museums in the US? ›

New York City

The cultural capital of the United States, New York showcases some of the best museums in the country (among many other attractions).

Are museums losing popularity? ›

Museums are not dying out, despite what statistics might indicate. The rise of interactive media, including social networks, are lending a new kind of image to the tried and true museums.

Are less people visiting museums? ›

Our annual survey reveals that last year overall attendance of the world's 100 most- visited art museums dropped by a staggering 77% in 2020—from 230 million in 2019 to just 54 million as museums worldwide were forced to close.

What is the oldest item in a museum? ›

Made from mammoth ivory, the Venus of Hohle Fels is the oldest undisputed example of a depiction of a human being. Dating back between 35,000 and 40,000 years, the figure is from the Upper Palaeolithic period and is one of a number of mammoth ivory artefacts discovered in the caves of the Swabian Alb region of Germany.

Where did Hobby Lobby steal artifacts? ›

In December 2010, Hobby Lobby purchased $1.6 million worth of Iraqi artifacts from dealers in the United Arab Emirates. The artifacts were largely cuneiform tablets, clay bullae, and cylinder seals, with some likely originating from the ancient city of Irisaĝrig on the Tigris.

What is the most protected museum in the world? ›

Mono Lisa and Musée du Louvre represents the highest security system that can be installed to protected the most valuable arts-antiques-collectibles in a controlled environment of museum.

Is the Art Institute credible? ›

The Art Institute of California - Sacramento is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools to award diplomas, associate's degrees, and bachelor's degrees.

Is the Art Institute getting sued? ›

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Art Institute of California misleads students into thinking that government loans can cover the cost of tuition at the for-profit college, then leaves them without a degree and saddled with debt, a class claims in Federal Court.

Why is San Francisco Art Institute closing? ›

SFAI is closing with a legacy of student loan debt.

What is the main role of the director? ›

Directors audition and cast actors; assemble and oversee the production team; provide design directives; lead rehearsals; and manage the production schedule of the project, ensuring that all the moving parts connect.

What is the role and responsibilities of a director? ›

Your role as a director

determining and implementing policies and making decisions. preparing and filing statutory documents with the Companies Office or other agencies. calling meetings, including an annual meeting of shareholders. maintaining and keeping records.

What is the major role of a director? ›

directors monitor the performance of management in terms of running the company in the interest of the shareholders, community, and government in accordance with the law. directors set objectives and oversee the work of management to ensure it delivers against the vision laid out in the business plan.

Is a director higher than a manager? ›

A director is a senior management professional who oversees an aspect of an organization. Directors often oversee managers and may assist them in managing a department, team or project.

What are three main roles of a director? ›

Determining the company's strategic objectives and policies. Monitoring progress towards achieving the objectives and policies. Appointing senior management. Accounting for the company's activities to relevant parties, eg shareholders.

What are three job duties of a director? ›

Director duties and responsibilities

Maintaining relationships with clients, partners and other stakeholders. Managing the profits and losses of the organization or a specific division. Developing goals and initiatives to direct the company's course. Guiding managers on implementing company initiatives and policies.

What are the 7 duties of a director? ›

As a director you must:
  • Act within powers. ...
  • Promote the success of the company. ...
  • Exercise independent judgment. ...
  • Exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence. ...
  • Avoid conflicts of interest (a conflict situation) ...
  • Not accept benefits from third parties.

Do directors do any work? ›

Directors are responsible for the creative decisions of a production. They select cast members, conduct rehearsals, and direct the work of the cast and crew. During rehearsals, they work with the actors to help them portray their characters accurately.

How much more does a director make than a manager? ›

Generally speaking, PayScale reports that managers earn salaries in the range of $40,000 to $112,000. By contrast, the median salary of those holding director-level positions was around $77,000 as of November 2021, according to PayScale. Directors' salaries ranged from $40,000 to $176,000.

What position is higher than director? ›

Vice presidents report to the president or CEO of a company, while directors usually report to the vice president.

Who should not serve on a board of directors? ›

Without further ado, here are five Board No-Nos.
  • Getting paid. ...
  • Going rogue. ...
  • Being on a board with a family member. ...
  • Directing staff or volunteers below the executive director. ...
  • Playing politics. ...
  • Thinking everything is fine and nothing needs to change.
Mar 31, 2015

What qualifications do you need to become a director? ›

You'll need:
  • knowledge of media production and communication.
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
  • the ability to work well with others.
  • leadership skills.
  • the ability to use your initiative.
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure.
  • ambition and a desire to succeed.

What is the top position in a museum? ›

Curators: Curators hold one of the highest positions among the museum hierarchy of employment. Curators are responsible for managing and overseeing collections for a specific exhibit, gallery, or section of a museum.


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