Aspen Art Museum exec drew nearly $900K in 2013
The Aspen Art Museum has enjoyed a landmark year with the opening of its new downtown facility, which is part of the reason its director’s compensation package has swelled to nearly $900,000 annually. Add the potential for a major museum to lure Heidi Zuckerman away from Aspen, and a competitive salary is merited, the museum’s board co-presidents said.
Zuckerman generated a base salary of $355,916, another $307,618 in bonuses and incentive compensation and $200,500 in other reportable compensation for the tax year ending Sept. 30, 2013. Those figures amount to $864,034 and are shown in the Aspen Art Museum’s most recently available Form 990 it filed with the IRS, which is a public document because the museum is a nonprofit organization.
Zuckerman’s compensation package grew by more than $250,000 compared with the prior year, and her pay has grown consistently since she was hired nearly a decade ago.
For the tax year ending Sept. 30, 2012, her compensation package was worth $613,952, according to tax records. At one point she earned a salary of $164,035.
Zuckerman, who is the museum’s executive director, curator and CEO, declined to be interviewed for this story. She deferred questions to museum board Co-Presidents John Phelan and Paul Schorr, who answered an email questionnaire from The Aspen Times.
The two explained that Zuckerman, who was hired in 2005, “has successfully raised over $100 million for the Aspen Art Museum. The result is a positive change in our net assets of 3,071 percent and a 278 percent increase in our operating budget. During her tenure, we also built a new, 33,000-square-foot museum that will be a community asset in Aspen for years. Her fundraising and leadership successes have had an impact on her compensation commensurate with this level of growth.”
Zuckerman came to Aspen from the art museum at the University of California in Berkley, where she worked for more than six years. Prior to that, she spent five years as curator at The Jewish Museum in New York.
In Aspen, she led the drive to build a new art museum. And with much fanfare and a large dose of controversy — the $45 million cube-shaped building alienated many local residents but drew rave reviews from others — the new Aspen Art Museum opened in August. Like the old one near the banks of the Roaring Fork River, the new museum charges no admission fee.
Tax records show the Aspen Art Museum collected $12.7 million in contributions and grants in the year ending Sept. 30, 2013, more than $2 million less than the $15 million it raised the prior year. The museum paid out $2.4 million in salaries, compensation and other benefits in the year ending Sept. 30, 2013.
Determining her pay
In October, the nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator issued its 2014 Charity CEO Compensation Study, based on salary data from the 2012 and 2013 tax years.
The report showed that the 2012 median compensation for nonprofit executives in the Mountain West region — which comprises Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming — was $101,589, and the maximum was $729,337.
It also showed that nonprofit executives in the arts, culture and humanities — throughout the entire U.S. — had a median compensation of $150,000 in 2012.
Phelan and Schorr, the art museum’s co-presidents, declined to discuss the compensation methodology used in determining Zuckerman’s pay, which accounted for more than 20 percent of the museum’s expenses in the year ending Sept. 30, 2013.
“The Compensation Committee of the board reviews Ms. Zuckerman’s compensation annually,” they wrote. “The board does take into consideration salaries from a number of different sources including the American Association of Museum Directors annual salary report. Among the many factors used to determine her package, we primarily review her performance on a set of predetermined measures and goals.”
The two also said that Aspen’s high cost of living, combined with Zuckerman’s high profile in the art world, factor into her pay.
“We are also forced to compete with major museums around the world who, as a result of the national and international profile which Ms. Zuckerman has grown exponentially, seek her talents for their organizations,” they said.
They also explained that Zuckerman fills three roles at the museum.
“In addition, it is important to note that the board has asked her to fulfill three roles that in most museums are filled by three different people namely, director, chief curator and CEO,” they wrote.
Charity Navigator’s study noted that donors “will be hesitant to agree that the CEO of their favorite charity deserves a six-figure salary. To the skeptics, we ask you to keep in mind that most of the charities included in this study are multimillion-dollar operations. Leading one of them requires an individual that possesses both an understanding of the issues that are unique to the charity’s mission as well as extensive management and fundraising expertise.”
Even so, Phelan and Schorr said the museum’s annual report, which is posted on its website, is transparent.
“We comply with all regulatory laws as it relates to private compensation,” they said. “The financial statements provided in our annual report include a statement of financial position, a statement of activities, and a consolidated statement of cash flows. This is a very transparent reporting of the museum’s financial position to our donors, supporters and the general public.”