Local arts agencies are like snow flakes. Each one is unique. Geographic region, cost of living, population size, budget size, staff size, number and type of programs, reporting structures, government entity or 501c3… These factors are all variables in defining the local art agency. In turn, they are also factors affecting the salaries of agency staff members. While each agency is unique, Americans for the Arts’ Research Report: Local Arts Agency Salaries 2013 highlights trends, commonalities and areas requiring a conscientious endeavor to improve.
There are glaring issues highlighted in the report: the ethnic diversity of agency staff, gender diversity and gender equality. As a field, there is clearly more work that needs to be done here. We must be deliberate about identifying opportunities to improve ethnic and gender equality.
Another important issue is age. The data reports that the average age of the full-time employee is 52.5 years. Let’s continue to engage the next generation in the relevance of our work and empower them as leaders. There are many good programs and initiatives looking to move the needle on succession planning in our field. Skill development, networking, mentorship, and hiring of young professionals are areas that all agency leaders should consider part of their responsibilities.
Finally, when reading the report, I wonder, how do we compare to other professions? I am struck that 91% of survey respondents have a college degree. The interdisciplinary work of local art agencies work requires financial and budgetary skills, business acumen, strong communication skills, understanding of public policy, community and economic development skills, nonprofit management skills, contract management skills, and specialized knowledge of the arts and events, among others. An annual average salary of $66,000 represents a living wage. Yet, how does it measure up against the average salaries of other professions, such as those in the fields of philanthropy, economic development, commercial creative industries, or other program management positions across sectors? My guess is that it falls below the average. Better articulation of the unique interdisciplinary work and standards around education and experience remains a need. The increase in the number of arts administration programs in higher education institutions will help advance this.
Thank you, Americans for the Arts, for issuing this report. It is useful for those working in the field as individuals and for the field as a whole. It helps inform how we can improve our collective work, promoting equality and accessibility, and raise the bar.