Income inequality: How gallery salaries can be worlds apart

·2-min read
When it comes to salaries, gallery assistants hit a ceiling of $35,000, according to an Artnet News survey.

There are many preconceived ideas about art dealers, one of them being their salaries, which are often imagined to reach astronomical sums. But this isn't the case for all professionals in the commercial art sector, as revealed by a new survey conducted by Artnet News.

The culture sector certainly hasn't been spared by the pandemic. In this context, Artnet News polled over 300 gallerists about the economics of their business activities. What emerged, says Artnet News, "was a portrait of an industry beset with income inequality." Behind this lies extremely pronounced economic disparities between gallery managers and their staff. Most of the gallery directors surveyed by Artnet News said that they earned more than $100,000 a year, with a select few approaching million-dollar sums.

These comfortable revenues are a world apart from the earnings of the majority of gallery assistants. In fact, earnings for gallery assistants maxed out at $35,000, or around 30% less than the amount Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers define as a living wage in New York State. Plus, gallery assistants can't always count on overtime to boost their paychecks. In fact, just 13% said that their employer offered paid overtime. More said that they had access to bonuses (30%) and benefits like family leave (26%).

Calling out working conditions

These challenging working conditions are increasingly being called out on social media, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. The Instagram account @cancelartgalleries regularly publishes anonymous first-hand accounts from people working in art galleries, with stories of "discrimination, exploitation, and abuse." "One time the director of this gallery said I look like Pocahontas or a Hawaiian girl 'cause I'm too dark skinned as a Korean woman," reads one post, for example.

The lack of diversity in art galleries was also reflected in the Artnet News survey. Of the people polled who chose to disclose their race, 85% identified as white -- a proportion that increases to 93% for executive-level employees.

Caroline Drzewinski