Arts organizations in Los Angeles County pay entry-level employees who are white more than Black, Indigenous and other employees of color, according to a newly released report.
“What this report reveals on income disparities cutting along racial lines is not surprising,” Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Hilda Solis said. “We know that arts and culture play a critical role in the economic and social resiliency of Los Angeles County, and as we build our ecosystem back, we must build it back better — with equity and opportunity for all of our creative workers and arts administrators at all levels.”
The report, titled “Make or Break: Race and Ethnicity in Entry-Level Compensation for Arts Administrators in Los Angeles County,” looks at the relationship between entry-level pay and diversity, equity and inclusion in the nonprofit arts world.
Researchers with the county’s Department of Arts and Culture and Claremont Graduate University’s Center for Business and Management of the Arts (CBMArts) surveyed entry-level arts administrators, who work behind the scenes to support artists and the public.
Earnings from all sources for this group averaged $36,847, slightly higher than the county minimum wage of $31,200, but lower than the living wage of $40,248. Entry-level administrators who were Black, Indigenous or people of color were paid on average 35% less — or more than $11,000 less — than white administrators. No matter their education level, white respondents on average earned more than BIPOC respondents, according to the study, which was based on complete responses from 169 survey respondents.
CBMArts Director Jonathan T.D. Neil said the findings present an opportunity for change.
“We as educators need to face these numbers head-on. They are a charge to rethink and transform how our arts and cultural institutions operate – – higher education included — and to ensure we are building a creative infrastructure that serves and supports everyone,” Neil said.
The researchers recommend that arts organizations analyze compensation based on demographics and reevaluate job requirements for entry-level positions to expand access. Other recommendations include offering transparency around salaries and keeping goals of diversity, inclusion and equity top of mind, as well as considering whether organizations can offer student debt relief.
Arts funders were also charged to make changes, demanding pay equity from grantees, for example. While individuals who chose the arts as a career often expect to make less money in trade-off for doing something they believe makes a difference in the world, researchers say that lower pay scales may shut out lots of interested Los Angeles County residents.
All entry-level arts staff, regardless of race, earned wages below the county’s cost of living, and the creative workforce in Los Angeles County is overwhelmingly female and white, according to the survey. The recommendations come at a time that arts nonprofits are struggling to rebuild and reinvent themselves as the county emerges from the worst effects of COVID-19.
The director of the Department of Arts and Culture, Kristin Sakoda, framed this as an opportunity.
“In the wake of COVID-19, we find ourselves in a moment of opportunity in the arts and culture sector,” she said. “This report speaks to the experiences of arts workers, wages and capitalization of the nonprofit arts sector — and highlights ways we can work collectively as a field to rebuild the arts sector equitably in recovery, reimagine our role in economic inclusion, and expand anti-racist practice across individual, institutional and systemic levels.”