The Shed. Stolen art and Tainted Donations. Salary Survey Results.

This month I found three stories that highlight topics that could lead to interesting discussions. First is a posting about the new arts complex in NYC called The Shed which began programming on April 5. Next, the museum world is facing pressures to repatriate looted art and to return donations that are seen as “tainted.” Lastly, salary survey information from Local Arts Agencies (LAA) provides insights into why the pace of change remains slow when it comes to addressing long-standing gender and equity issues.

The Shed Opens

The opening of what is being hailed as “one of the most ambitious cultural institutions to emerge since Lincoln Center” seems like a good topic for a discussion about these types of entitties and their impact on communities. The Shed is a fascinating project which certainly seems destined to enhance opportunities for artists and provide arts programming to the Hudson Yards area. Of course, the project has not been without its controversies and therein lies a discussion.

Keep the Art and Keep the Money? Nope.

The Economist’s “Culture Vulture” post provides a launch pad for a discussion about museums returning art that was looted from former colonies and the morality of keeping funds from donors who fall from public favor. A research topic exploring repatriation policies being developed by various types of museums could be a product of this article. Meanwhile, the thought of having to give back funds that were raised is painful indeed. A lively discussion is likely to result from posing a question such as “Should museums give back donated funds that were legally earned, but that have suddenly become ‘tainted’?”  

Salary Survey Reveals Slow Progress Gender Pay Disparities and Equity Issues

Finding any information about compensation levels in arts management occupations is a challenge. The 2018 Americans for the Arts survey of salaries in Local Arts Agencies (LAA) provides some insights on how much people are being paid and who is getting hired. (Note: A link to the full report is at the end of third the article.) The results of the survey indicate that not much progress has been made when it comes to meeting pay parity and diversity. A discussion about strategies to speed up the change process is an option, and for anyone interested in doing a deeper dive into the full survey, I suggest going to page 32 and read through the section on “Agency Diversity Policies and Activities.” For example, 17% of the LAA’s have no diversity policy in staffing and hiring, and another 36% indicate they have no policy, but diversity is a consideration when hiring. If a combined 53% of the LAA’s have no written policy on diversity in staffing and hiring, is it surprising the process of change is rather glacial?

That’s it for this month. I hope you have a wonderful spring and I’ll be back with an update by mid-May.  

Bill Byrnes


Can This Arts Center Make Hudson Yards Likeable?

Laura Feinstein, April 3, 2019 | © | The Atlantic Monthly Group

If The Shed remains committed to its lofty goals, Hudson Yards may soon provide real accessibility and a sorely needed sense of inclusion.

It’s the first warm Saturday of spring, and hundreds of tourists are navigating the busy wooden walkway of The High Line from Gansevoort Street to 34th along the tracks of the former New York Central Railroad line where grass and purple snow buds are blooming. The final endpoint for this mass of iced coffee and smartphone-wielding bodies is a glimpse of the glittering towers of Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s newest neighborhood.

Just steps away from the shiny new condos, stores, offices, and an already loathed public art piece, work is wrapping up on one of the most ambitious cultural institutions to emerge since the Lincoln Center. Officially launching on April 5th, The Shed is a multipurpose event space with an egalitarian mission designed by Liz Diller (of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, co-designer of The High Line) and David Rockwell (Rockwell Group). It will showcase an eclectic roster of multi-hyphenate artists, musicians, and creatives, with programming ranging from opera and classical music to dance and visual art—all of which will be set in a futuristic and collaborative atmosphere.

Link to the article:

More on The Shed – There also was an opinion piece by Ben Davis published by the artnet® News on April 4th which is a longer, more detailed, and includes an interesting video showing the various configurations of the performance space. Here’s the link:


The moral maze of museum management

The case for giving back stolen art is strong. For refusing tainted donations, less so

The Economist, March 29, 2019 – This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition of The Economist under the headline “Culture vultures.”

It didn’t take much. A theatrical “die-in” at the New York Guggenheim Museum in February; a threat by Nan Goldin, a photographer, to pull her works from the National Portrait Gallery in London; a warning of unspecified “guerrilla actions” against British museums. Since mid-March the Guggenheim, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate galleries have all cracked. None will accept future gifts from the Sackler family, prolific philanthropists who own Purdue Pharma, a firm that created an opioid, OxyContin, and claimed it was not terribly addictive.

So Western museums will be a little poorer. They might also have less stuff to show, if another sort of campaign prevails. In November a report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, argued that museums should hand back to former colonies artworks that were acquired by force or “through inequitable conditions”. Since colonialism was inequitable, that implies France should hand back almost everything (see International section).

To museums and their defenders, this is all silly—a thoughtless attack on cultural temples by a generation too easily outraged. But the campaigns ought to be distinguished from each other. The arguments for returning art acquired in dodgy ways are stronger than the arguments for giving back money.

Link to the article:


When Will Actions Follow Words? A Survey of Salaries Across Local Arts Agencies

Ms. Ruby Lopez Harper | March 13, 2019 | ArtsBlog, Americans for the Arts

Local Arts Agencies continue to be the leading voice in support of arts and culture in communities around the country. In addition to supporting artists and arts and culture organizations, LAAs are instrumental in setting the pace for adoption of equitable policy, programs, and resource distribution. Over the decades, LAAs have continued to find ways to serve their communities more fully, advocate more effectively, and provide support for arts and culture organizations and artists. LAAs have struggled with recessions, changing political leadership, and the challenge of individuals understanding the value of investing in arts and culture—all while balancing staff capacity and resources.

The salary survey report in Americans for the Arts’ 2018 Profile of Local Arts Agencies sheds light on certain disparities in representation. Despite the robust sample size of 1,117 respondents, participants self-selected to respond and, therefore, we cannot be certain it fully represents the LAA field. Even so, the aggregate results reflect our empirical observations about the nature of field demographics and compensation—and reinforce the need for urgency and intentional action to improve compensation, diversity, and parity in the field.

Link to the blog post:

Link to the Salary Survey Summary and Results:

Link to the Local Arts Agency Dashboard: 

Link to the Full Report (126 pages):