Sunday, 8 January 2012

Follow the money

Say the words ‘Freedom of Information Act’ to any Austrian and you’re likely to be met with a quizzical expression. The Austrian Rechnungshof, or National Audit Office, is however required by law to publish biannual statistics on public sector salaries at the higher end (from what I gather, it’s people who earn around the same as the Austrian chancellor). No names are mentioned in their most recent report, but what Der Standard has cleverly deduced is that through quirks in the accounting (like that the Rechnungshof is publishing on the gender pay gap for the first time) it is possible to attach some faces to the figures. And on the whole, it doesn’t make for bad reading.

Wiener Staatsoper Intendant Dominique Meyer (pictured) gets paid around €260,000. That’s the same as his thrifty predecessor, Ioan Holender, who took great pride in things like never having his office redecorated in 18 years at the helm. If we indulge the Staatsoper in a ‘Big Four’ comparison it contrasts favourably: Covent Garden’s Tony Hall got £390,000 in 2010 and Peter Gelb was left with $1.3 million after an 11% pay cut in 2009. And after the Intendant the $$$ rapidly drop off – Thomas Platzer, commercial manager and Meyer’s No. 2, earned €168,000 in 2010. The report is only concerned with managerial positions so there is no information on Generalmusikdirektor Franz Welser-Möst.

Jürgen Flimm’s salary in his final year as Salzburger Festspiele Intendant is estimated to have been €260,000. Der Standard implies a gender-based pay gap, stating that president of the Festival Helga Rabl-Stadler earned €175,300 while her male colleagues on the Festival’s Direktorium, or board of directors, earned an average of €199,400. But there are only two directors in addition to Rabl-Stadler and one of them is – or was – Flimm, which means that the Festival’s commercial manager got €150,000. If my reckoning is correct I don’t believe that suggests sexism; of the three the Intendant has the most responsibility.

I am surprised that Volksoper Intendant Robert Meyer earns €228,200, because, you know, it’s the Volksoper. Over at the Bregenzer Festspiele, Intendant David Pountney gets €142,000. A figure hasn’t been published for Theater an der Wien Intendant Roland Geyer as the opera house is subsidised by municipal funds and the Rechnungshof’s remit is federal. Or as Der Standard puts it: ‘the Viennese Social Democrats doggedly refuse to disclose their salaries.’  The same goes for the Wiener Festwochen and its Intendant Luc Bondy, though personally I’d be more curious to find out what Stéphane Lissner gets for doing squat.

Der Standard's article is here. For a report that only an accountant could love, click here. There is a shorter version here, but it contains nothing of interest on the cultural sector.


  1. Below are some examples of other high salaries for arts exectuives in 2009, as reported in the New York Times. (I wrote this a while back as a comment for another blog.) See:

    Considering these extravagant numbers below we needn’t heed simplistic whining that these managers might have seen some relatively small reductions in the last couple years. Part of the problem is America’s funding system of funding. Organizations become inordinately dependant on highly paid administrators who can wheedle money out of the wealthy. They also have to head huge, expensive “development departments” who have to reinvent the funding wheel every year. The public funding system used by Europeans is far more efficient.

    * Reynold Levy’s annual compensation to run Lincoln Center tops $1 million.
    * Carnegie Hall pays Clive Gillinson more than $800,000.
    * Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, earned $2.7 million in the year that ended in June 2008, including several one-time bonuses and the cost of his apartment in the tower beside the museum.
    * Occasionally institutions will also pay bonuses tied to performance or longevity, like the $3.25 million given in 2006 to Philippe de Montebello to recognize his 30-year service to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (His aristocratic name fits well with America’s neo-feudalistic form of arts funding.)
    * On top of his $940,000 salary, Michael Kaiser of the Kennedy Center earned a $150,000 bonus, as well as other benefits, for 2009.
    For FY 2009 the former President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra was piad $447,953.
    * Zarin Mehta’s most recent compensation, for fiscal year 2010, is $807,500. In the fiscal year ending in August 2008 he earned 2.67 million. This reflected his salary in addition to eight years of accumulated deferred compensation.
    * Timothy Rub, the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art earns $450,00.
    * George Steel, the general manager and artistic director of New York City Opera receives $360,000 – and from an opera house that just shut down its season due to a lack of funds.
    *Deborah Borda, Executive Director of the LA Phil makes over 1 million a year with benefits.

  2. As an economist was saying on Austrian radio the other day, Amerika ist ein sehr eigenartiges Land...

    The much lower Austrian salaries don't surprise me so much, though many Austrians would probably still think them too high. Wage restraint and full employment go hand in hand with Austrian corporatism, consociationalism, whatever you want to call it.

  3. I think the usual term is Social Democracy. For a negative term I would use "Beamterkultur." The term is used quite a bit here in Germany -- probably in Austria too. Austria’s funding system and the salaries it offers are normative for most of Europe. One salary in the USA that especially surprised me is that the first-desk trumpeter in the Philadelphia orchestra makes almost 300k per year – apparently more than the concert master.

  4. Except that the ÖVP is as much a part of the cultural Beamtentum as the SPÖ, and it is indeed always an ÖVP man who heads the bureaucrats' union. So I'm not sure that 'Social Democracy' adequately describes it. It is different from Germany, it must be said. I'm going to stick to corporatism, maybe social corporatism at a stretch, because political, public and private interests - and more - all get a seat at the table here. Very gemütlich, very Austrian.

    By Europe I assume you mean the continent... But yes, from what I know the salaries of Intendanten in Germany are closer to Dominique Meyer's than Tony Hall's. I would say that what doesn't seem to happen nearly as frequently in Germany & Austria as in Italy (or France) is people accumulating functions and salaries. Stéphane Lissner is Exhibit A, obviously. As far as I know Meyer's only side job is presenting his monthly 'Mélange mit Dominique Meyer' on Radio Stephansdom. Maybe le maison Meyer goes out to dinner on the fee. Or given Dominique Meyer's taste in restaurants, probably not.

  5. I use the term Social Democracy to mean a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices to create social justice while maintaining capitalist modes of production. These are typically countries where the government spends about 50% of the GDP and which have national health insurance, comprehensive systems of public arts funding, strong unions, closely regulated financial sectors (relatively speaking,) well-funded pension systems, and an array of other social programs that limit the negative effects of poverty. That’s a very rough definition. It describes almost of all continental Europe – and the UK in most respects. American neo-liberalism and the Social Democracies of Europe have been locked in a culture war of sorts since about 1985. They advocate very different systems of arts funding. Perhaps you are saying the same thing, since I do not know what you mean by social corporatism. The term seems interesting, and might describe the direction Europe would go if it acedes to US pressures.

  6. I think to abstract the discussion the way you have is fine if we're talking about Tony Judt, but my comment was about the singular way the Austrian political system works (which Judt also wrote about insightfully). I won't comment further as I don't want this thread to get as off-topic as the other, for reasons of time and testing my readers' patience. But for more on Austria's political culture - which may be interesting background for your VP work - I recommend anything written on the subject by Oliver Rathkolb or Anton Pelinka.

    Incidentally - and briefly, as this is very off-topic - Pelinka's nephew (a young Social Democrat) has been the subject of political controversy recently, prompting Elfriede Jelinek to declare the 'end of Social Democracy' (