Basta! The Heads of Italy's Storied Museums Unite in Fury Over Their Appallingly Paltry Salaries

Basta! The Heads of Italy's Storied Museums Unite in Fury Over Their Appallingly Paltry Salaries
The Uffizi in Florence
(Courtesy eblaser via Flickr)

The directors of the world's great art collections are generally paid well for what they do. In 2008, in his seventh year as director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette earned an estimated base salary of €7,500 ($9,928) a month. As director of the Metropolitan Museum, director Philippe de Montebello was compensated that year with $916,030. You'd think that Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, would value culture — after all, it took in $38 billion in tourism revenue last year, a lot of it drawn to storied sites like the Uffizi Galleries and the Doge's Palace. Not so, however. In fact, Italian museum directors are making a stink about their paltry salaries. 

In an open letter (published in translation here), the managers of some of Italy's most famous museums cite the "need for transparency" outlined by the new centrist government of Mario Monti to draw attention to the issue of low pay. Though they may oversee the most prestigious museums in Venice, Florence, and Rome, compensation for these museum directors is less than that of their peers in France, Spain, and the United States. Quite a bit less.

"We are functionaries with complex responsibilities that range from personnel management, to fund raising, to museum directorship, to highly specialized roles in curatorship, restoration, and scholarly research," the letter reads. "And yet we do not earn more than €2,000 [$2,600] a month, with no real benefits in addition to our stipend, and no other type of compensation more than €1,780 [$2,356]." In the United States, that would put them in the league of the median starting salaries for telemarketers, adminstrative assistants, and cable TV installers.

Among the letter's authors were Palazzo di Venezia director Andreina DraghiNational Museum of Rome director Rita Paris, and Antonio Natali, director of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence. Anna Lo Bianco, who directs the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, believes her salary represents a gross underestimation of the country's cultural treasures. "We have an enormous heritage, so many works of art, museums, churches, and paintings. Our heritage isn't given proper consideration, and neither are its caretakers," she told ARTINFO. "Maybe we need to move ourselves closer to the world of politics, and to ask for what we haven't had."

Public service in Italy has long been characterized by inefficiency and cynicism, and the cultural sector is no exception. Lo Bianco and her colleagues have felt under-appreciated for quite some time, but the straw that broke the camel's back arrived earlier this year during negotiations that would have augmented their monthly salary by €150 ($200). Highly accomplished museum directors, almost all of whom carry PhDs, were asked by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to produce photocopies of their university credentials. The directors were appalled. "It was ridiculous," Rita Paris told ARTINFO. "After my thirty-two year career in the field, did they really need me to prove that I had a degree?"

Though the Ministry of Cultural Heritage has not publicly responded to the open letter, Lo Bianco and Paris say they spoke with Ministry chief of staff Salvatore Nastasi, and described the conversations with restrained optimism. "They wanted to know who we are, what our contracts look like, and if they can find ways to arrive at an accomodation," she said. "It's encouraging, but we're not hoping for much. We'll have to wait and see."