When it comes to compensation for directors of performing arts venues, Marcia White’s salary at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is well ahead of the pack.
White’s salary is coming under criticism following the winter decision to trim the ballet season to two weeks, though she has the vocal support of the SPAC chairman.
White, who replaced Herb Chesbrough as SPAC’s president and executive director in March 2005, received a salary of $205,170 in her first year and $244,865 in 2006. More recent figures are not yet available, SPAC salaries have been frozen since the end of last summer.
By comparison, executive directors of other area arts venues have not topped the $200,000 mark. For example, Philip Morris, who runs the year-round Proctors in Schenectady, was paid $140,000 in 2007. At The Egg in Albany, another year-round venue, Executive Director Peter Lesser is paid $94,000 annually.
Patricia DiBenedetto Snyder, the founder and producing director of the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, is paid $125,792 annually. And Ella Baff, the executive director of Jacob’s Pillow, a 10-week summer dance venue in Becket, Mass., was paid $159,713 in 2006. All of these directors have had many years, often several decades, of experience working in arts management. The salary levels are reported on federal tax filings for nonprofit organizations.
White, a former nurse and then spokeswoman for retired state senator and majority leader Joseph Bruno, had never worked in the arts before being tapped to head SPAC.
“We are an $8 million business,” said William Dake, chairman of the SPAC board of directors. “We interface with national organizations and it’s complicated. We have to deal with five different groups who we have to beat to death to get them to focus on the programming. And she started in a complex time. We didn’t have a lot of staff. She works her tail off.”
Dake also mentioned that SPAC has a $10 million contract with Live Nation, the group that books and manages the pop music concerts.
However, other area arts groups have large budgets as well. Proctors stands at $14.8 million; the New York State Theatre Institute’s budget is $3.6 million a year while The Egg works on a $2.1 million annual budget.
Louise Goldstein, a former member of the Save the Ballet committee, which worked to keep the New York City Ballet dancing at SPAC, said she felt White’s salary was “totally shocking and an outrage.” That organization disbanded after White was appointed.
“We fought so hard to keep the ballet, and now we have a high-paid executive, who had no experience in the arts, making this kind of money. I think SPAC should cut her salary in half and use the money to hire someone with an arts background.”
In hiring White, then-board chairman Dr. Stephen Serlin said the board was impressed with her marketing and fundraising potential. In her first year at SPAC, the then-financially ailing venue ended the year with a small surplus. It has operated without a deficit since.
“Fifty percent of the job is fundraising and Marcia has done incredibly well with fundraising,” said Dake.
However, SPAC has been struggling with attendance, particularly at the ballet, which has continued to decline since White began. And this summer, the ballet, the amphitheater’s flagship company, has reduced its stay from three weeks to two.
“Marcia did a good job getting SPAC in the black,” said John DeMarco, owner of Lyrical Ballad bookstore and a member of SPAC. “But there hasn’t been growth in promoting the ballet, getting a capital campaign going and attendance. We are going backwards. It doesn’t bode well for the arts.”
Goldstein agreed, lamenting, “We have a week less of the ballet.”
Chesbrough resigned in 2005 in the wake of a controversy swirling around New York City Ballet. He announced he made plans to cancel the ballet, saying it was too expensive. That led to a state audit, which criticized Chesbrough’s $317,301 salary. When White has hired, the SPAC board reported that her salary would range from $150,000 to $175,000. Dake said SPAC settled on $205,170 instead after “doing an extensive survey” on what others are paid.