Salaries in the art industry are an infamously opaque subject. Indeed, there are still some who remember that wealthy families used to actually pay the big auction houses to take on their young as junior staff.
Those days are gone (even if unpaid internships are not). But today, are you better off being an auction house specialist or working in the press team? In gallery sales or logistics? In New York or London?
Recruiters get the best birds eye view of wages so the specialist recruitment company Sophie Macpherson Ltd (SML) has decided to pool its data into spill the beans about art world dosh.
Today it releases the first SML Art Market Salary Report 2023, which will be produced biennially, analysing wages in the UK and US between January and December 2022 across commercial galleries, fairs, auction houses, advisories and associated technology businesses. The report, compiled by SML’s senior researcher, Robyn Orovwuje-Forbes, used data from remuneration packages it negotiated in 2022 and recruitment budgets shared by employers as its primary source data, and includes base salaries only.
The report, according to a statement, found “a significant increase in salary rates across the global art world since before the pandemic, with the biggest step-changes recorded in the US”—a statement not all will agree with. (SML, like most recruiters, will be brought in most frequently for senior hires so data may be skewed towards higher end salaries.) The report found that the highest base salaries were at commercial galleries, where pre-commission salaries for the most senior sales hires topped out at $425,000 (in the US) or £250,000 (in the UK) per year.
SML also reports it had the biggest increase in demand for searches in the US—up by 200%, according to the report, in US regions outside New York (Los Angeles in particular). It also attributes a reported rise in hires in Europe to Brexit-related difficulties around the import and export of art.
On the flip side, the SML report finds that entry-level salaries in the UK remain woefully low—starting at around £22,500.
“Now more than ever, with multiple factors including the effects of the pandemic, inflation, the rising cost of living, cross-sector moves, and regional considerations influencing and informing employment offer negotiations, it is important to have a realistic view of both what is achievable and what is expected in order to attract and retain talent,” reads the report’s introduction. Alongside recognising such socio-economic factors, one of the report’s key findings is that employers are increasingly required “to be more up-front and open about the basic pay they are offering”, something encouraged in the US by new transparency laws introduced in November 2022.
But transparency is not enough—employees at a more senior level, at least, (and particularly in business development and sales roles) are apparently becoming more demanding when it comes to reward structures such as bonuses, and benefit schemes. And at the very top end, candidates are expecting one-off compensation packages, particularly when coming across from other (better paid) industries such as tech, luxury goods and finance.
Want to earn the most in the art world? Aim for a business development or senior sales role at a big auction house or international contemporary art gallery, where salaries can reach seven figures.
Here is SML’s run down of the highs and lows of art industry salaries, by sector (all figures quoted are average base salaries, excluding bonuses or commissions, per annum):
Assistants can expect to earn £30,000-£40,000 (UK) or £47,000-£90,000 (US) while senior directors are on upwards of £100,000 (UK) or $200,000 (US).
Those in exhibitor relations are on £24,000-£36,000 (UK) or $60,000-$85,000 (US). Fair directors can expect £65,000 or more in the UK, and $120,000-plus in the US.
Studio assistants are paid £25,000-£55,000 (UK) or $57,000-$105,000 (US), while directors earn anywhere between £50,000-£150,000 (UK) or $100,000-$200,000 (US).
Auction houses (business)
Executive assistants are on £45,000-£60,000 (UK) or $48,000-$70,000 (US) rising to £50,000-£130,000 (UK) or $90,000-$180,000 (US) for business directors.
Auction houses (specialists)
Sale co-ordinators are the lowest paid at between £25,000-£32,000 (UK) or $45,000-$75,000 (US). In the UK, the top role is a senior director (£130,000 and up) while in the US it is the senior vice presidents who take home the biggest pay packets—$350,000 or more.
Gallery assistants start at around £23,000 to £30,000 (UK) or $40,000-$70,000 (US). Aside from senior sales, in the UK, communications directors and those in finance tend to earn the most—at £45,000-£120,000 (communications) or £49,000-£120,000 (finance). Meanwhile in the US, artist liaisons and exhibitions directors earn around $103,000-$213,000. But it is the sales departments that take home the most—UK senior sales directors are on between £213,000-£250,000 while partners in the US can command $400,000 or more.
Those with one to three years’ experience earn £29,000-£41,000 (UK) or $55,000-$75,000 (US) rising to between £55,000-£110,000 (UK) or $80,000-$163,000 (US) for those with nine years or more in the job.
Alternative art world businesses and arts technology
In the UK, salaries in this nebulous category start at around £25,000-£60,000 for those in business development, while staff in leadership roles can earn over £65,000. In the US, client services roles start at around $45,000-$75,000 rising to $150,000 or more for leadership positions.
The full report can be found on SML’s website.