Aspen Art Museum exec makes more than heads of Guggenheim, Denver Art Museum | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Art Museum exec makes more than heads of Guggenheim, Denver Art Museum

Aspen Art Museum CEO Heidi Zuckerman's pay ranks high in the art museum world.

As the head of the Aspen Art Museum, Heidi Zuckerman is one of the most handsomely paid executives in her industry. But the nonprofit's expenses and revenue are substantially less than other well-known American museums that dole out similarly high salaries.

On Thursday, The Aspen Times reported Zuckerman's compensation for the tax year ending Sept. 30, 2013, as $864,034, based on tax records. Her nontaxable benefits, which totaled $30,950, made her total package worth $894,984.

During that same period, the Aspen Art Museum drew $14 million in revenue and paid $3.9 million in expenses. One analyst in the field of nonprofit salary reviews said Zuckerman's pay is out of line with other like-sized nonprofits.

"The median salary for charities that size is way closer to $100,000, if not below," said Sandra Miniutti, vice president of New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, which monitors financial pictures of U.S. nonprofits. "But you do see elevated salaries when it comes to culture and the arts."

Miniutti called Zuckerman's pay "extremely high."

"It would be hard for them to substantiate a salary based on the benchmarks we've seen," she said. "That's not consistent with charities that size."

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What the major museums pay

Tax forms for some of the country's most renowned nonprofit art museums showed them with considerably higher expenses and revenue than the Aspen Art Museum, with Zuckerman's compensation package more lucrative than some and less than others.

Here's a sampling:

• The Art Institute of Chicago — With $253 million in revenue and $270 million, the nonprofit paid its two presidents $520,789 and $610,934 in the tax year ending June 30, 2013.

• Metropolitan Museum of Art — The largest art museum in the U.S., the New York City organization drew $631 million in revenue and had $462 million in expenses in the tax year ending June 30, 2013. Its director and CEO made $886,382 that year. Add $35,474 in deferred compensation and $301,644 in nontaxable benefits and Thomas Campbell's total compensation package was worth more than $1.2 million.

• Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation — For the tax year ending Dec. 31, 2012, the New York City art museum saw revenue of $80 million and expenses of $72 million. Director Richard Armstrong's compensation package amounted to $748,740.

• Museum of Modern Art — Another New York City museum, this one reported revenue of $214 million and expenses of $221 million in the tax year ending June 30, 2013. Its top paid executive, Glen Lowry, also is the most handsomely compensated in the industry, with a total compensation package — which includes deferred compensation and nontaxable benefits — of $1.85 million.

• Los Angeles County Museum of Art — For the tax year ending June 30, 2013, the museum reported revenues of $82 million and expenses of $105 million. Director and CEO Michael Govan earned $900,122, and $132,131 in retirement and other deferred compensation lifted his overall pay to just more than $1 million.

• Closer to home, the Denver Art Museum generated $34 million in revenue and paid $30 million in expenses in the year ending Sept. 30, 2013. Its director, Christoph Heinrich, had a total pay package worth $248,723.

Aspen Art board: pay must be competitive

The co-presidents of the Aspen Art Museum's board of trustees said that the museum competes with other ones around the world, necessitating a competitive salary. They also said that Zuckerman holds three titles — executive director, CEO and chief curator — and her compensation reflects that. Zuckerman's performance, they said, also has been exceptional as she has raised more than $100 million since she took the helm in 2005.

"Her fundraising and leadership successes have had an impact on her compensation commensurate with this level of growth," said co-presidents John Phelan and Paul Schorr.

Zuckerman's fundraising skills, they said, led to the construction of the 33,000-square-foot, $45 million Aspen Art Museum located downtown. The museum, which doesn't charge admission, opened in August and enters its first full high season this winter.

Miniutti said the IRS has no set guidelines for executive pay in the nonprofit sector, but it does analyze how pay is determined.

"They look to see if there's a compensation committee on the board, made up of independent board members," she said. "They look to see if they evaluate the CEO's performance. They'd also be doing a benchmark analysis to make sure the compensation is in line with similar institutions, looking at similarly sized charities."

The Aspen Art Museum's compensation committee, noted Phelan and Schorr, reviews Zuckerman's pay annually, which includes "multi-year performance incentives — all of which Ms. Zuckerman has met and/or exceeded in her tenure."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com