Baltimore's Two Largest Museums Just Accelerated Plans For A Minimum Wage Increase To $15 An Hour

  • February 28, 2021 18:28

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Baltimore Museum of Art. Photograph by Eli Pousson.

While Maryland’s minimum wage increases to $15 an hour for companies with more than 15 employees by 2025, two of Baltimore's largest art institutions jumped ahead this year with the hourly wage hike.

In January, The Walters Art Museum announced that it would raise its minimum wage for all full-time hourly positions to $15 per hour, and bring part-time hourly positions to a $13 per hour minimum, as soon as the museum reopened.

“An important element of our discussions on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access has been about pay equity, so I am happy that we are able to move forward with raising the floor for hourly employees to $15 per hour,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, Andrea B. and John H. Laporte Director. “Raising the museum’s minimum wage is both a civic initiative within Baltimore and a nation-wide conversation grounded in the need to provide a real living wage. We are grateful to our donors, whose financial support has enabled us to make this investment in our employees and our community.”

The Ideal City (c. 1480-1484) attributed to Fra Carnevale. Walters Art Museum.

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced last Thursday that it has received three major gifts totalling $1.5 million in support of its ambitious diversity and equity priorities. Among the gifts was $110,000 from philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Legum to implement immediate pay increases for hourly workers.

The BMA has increased the base wages of all its hourly workers from $13.50 to $15.00 thanks to the Legum's gift. The change went into effect on February 1, 2021 and the increase will now be incorporated into the BMA’s operating budget, making it the new baseline wage for all hourly employees moving forward. More than 50 employees at the museum are benefitting from the Legum’s support.

Securing, and in many cases, increasing staff salaries is the most expansive focus area of the BMA’s Endowment for the Future, a financial plan to enact structural change within the institution and to increase community access to exhibitions and programs. Once fully realized, every staff position will be evaluated through the lens of pay equity and increases will be rolled out incrementally to achieve competitive market rates, including further raises for hourly workers. The BMA is aiming to raise nearly $40 million during the next 24-30-months for this effort. Prioritizing this frequently overlooked aspect of museum finance recognizes the contributions of the BMA’s existing staff and will also allow the museum to attract and retain a diverse workforce into the future, the museum noted in a statement.

“I’ve participated on the BMA’s Board of Trustees for many years and as a former treasurer, I am very aware of how hard the museum works to balance its operating budget. I knew the BMA was unable to accommodate an increase in the minimum wage this year so I decided to help them until they could afford it,” said Legum. “I am glad that so many people on the staff will immediately benefit from this gift.”

In addition, the BMA received $1 million from philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton to support the museum’s near and long-term diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) initiatives, and $350,000 from The Rouse Company Foundation, which will be used to establish evening hours.

In October, the BMA's board voted last-minute to reverse a decision to sell blue chip artworks from its collections at Sotheby's after an uproar. The museum had hoped to raise funds for new acquisitions as part of its Endowment for the Future goals.

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