Subscriber login

Local News
What you need to know for 07/27/2017

Directors of performing art venues cashing in

Directors of performing art venues cashing in

At a time when many arts organizations are struggling financially, directors of the area’s larger pe

At a time when many arts organizations are struggling financially, directors of the area’s larger performing arts venues are well compensated, with salaries ranging from just less than $100,000 to more than $200,000.

Marcia White, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, leads area directors with a salary of about $242,000 in 2010. But Philip Morris, executive director of Proctors in Schenectady, has also moved past the $200,000 mark. He takes home about $204,000, an increase from the $110,000 he was paid when he took over at Proctors 10 years ago.

When asked about their salaries, both White and Morris point to the amount of work they’ve done since taking over their respective organizations and the expansion of programming under their leadership.

When Morris arrived at Proctors, the historic theater annually hosted about 170 events such as films and live entertainment in the main theater. Today, Proctors hosts 1,738 events each year and has expanded its programming extensively. The organization now runs an in-house coffee shop and elegant banquet hall that opened in 2011, has assumed management of Schenectady’s public access TV station under the subsidiary Open Stage Media and also taken over the administrative functions of Capital Repertory Theatre.

In 2003, the theater embarked on an ambitious $30 million expansion that tripled the size of its stage, and in 2007 completed renovations to the former Carl Co. store on State Street, adding the 434-seat GE Theatre, new conference space, offices and a new box office.

Morris said that over the past 10 years, Proctors’ budget has increased from $2.5 million to $18 million and the organization’s staff has doubled from 35 to 70.

“We do a lot more now than run one building,” Morris said.


White replaced Herb Chesbrough as SPAC’s president and executive director in March 2005 and received a starting salary of $205,170. At the time of Chesbrough’s resignation, he was making $317,301. SPAC has a budget of about $8.3 million; White said the budget was about $7.9 million when she arrived.

White said that under her leadership, SPAC’s overall programming has expanded. She said she is responsible for much of the venue’s programming, especially since the 2010 departure of Charles Dutoit, who served as artistic director and principal conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Saratoga season for two decades. Dutoit wasn’t replaced, and White said she made the decision not to fill the position, instead featuring different guest conductors. In addition, she said SPAC has expanded offerings in modern dance and cabaret, and the revenue of its Wine & Food Fest has doubled.

“The scope of the job is even greater than it was in 2005,” White said. “I really stand by my record.” She described SPAC as a “huge economic engine” and said her goal is to ensure that the venue is there for “generations to come.”

“For me, this is a job that is never-ending,” she said. “It’s like running a small corporation.”

White also said that since 2005, the number of corporate sponsors involved with SPAC has jumped 160 percent. “That’s where we raise a great deal of our money from,” she said, noting that each performance of the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra costs an average of $150,000.

“We’ve obtained break-even status every year since I became executive director,” she said.

In addition, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has invested more than $4.5 million on improvements to SPAC’s amphitheater, including new seating and extensive interior work, since 2005. Just last week, William Dake, board chairman of Stewart’s Shops, and his wife, Susan, donated $500,000 for a new facade.

White has been criticized over the decision to trim the ballet season to two weeks. She said that decision was made by the board of directors for the New York City Ballet, which has struggled financially. The Philadelphia Orchestra also has struggled, filing for bankruptcy last year.

The Egg

Peter Lesser, executive director of The Egg in Albany, earns about $95,000. Along with his staff, he hasn’t received a pay increase since 2007. The Egg staff has shrunk, from about 15 full-time positions a decade ago, to six full-time positions today.

The Egg has struggled in recent years, and in 2010, the governor’s initial budget proposal would have cut all of the organization’s state funding. But some funding was restored, and the proposed budget for 2012-13 would allocate $220,000 for the organization, the same amount that was allocated last year.

Lesser said that The Egg has stepped up its fundraising efforts and membership campaign, which has helped make up for some of the loss of state funding. The loss of state funding has had an impact, however.

In 2008, The Egg created an educational musical about the importance of the performance arts, with the idea that visiting school groups could see it for free. But the budget cuts forced the organization to suspend the program, with the hope of reviving it in better fiscal times, Lesser said.

The Egg also has cut back its contemporary dance program, from about 18 performances a year to six, and stopped booking some smaller, more experimental acts that it used to bring in.

The Egg is still able to book better-known musical acts because they are popular, but Lesser said the venue is neglecting the part of its mission that calls on the organization to foster new artists and educational programming.

He said The Egg would like to see its state funding increase to $425,000, which would still amount to a 30 percent cut from the $630,000 it received in 2008. He said other state agencies are dealing with 30 percent cuts, and The Egg is only asking to be treated the same as them.

Lesser said getting a pay increase is not his top priority.

“We’re happy to be working,” Lesser said. “I volunteered to take a pay cut, but the board didn’t want to do that. My priority is to get programming back to where it was. We were created to deliver programming at a certain level, but we haven’t been able to do it. Our programming right now doesn’t have the depth that we would like.”

The Egg was also hurt by the scandal at the now-defunct New York State Theatre Institute.

In 2010, the state Inspector General issued a report alleging that Patricia Snyder, the producing artistic director, had used her position improperly and for personal gain, a finding that proved fatal to NYSTI. Last year, Russell Sage College announced that it would continue NYSTI’s mission through a new initiative called the Theatre Institute @ Sage.


The Capital Region’s performing arts venues are nonprofit organizations and are required to file Form 990, the IRS tax form for nonprofits. The completed forms are available through online organizations such as GuideStar, which gathers information about nonprofits and makes them available to users.

According to the most recent Form 990s on file, Michael MacLeod, former general and artist director of the Cooperstown-based Glimmerglass Opera, earned $111,377 in 2010, while Ella Baff, executive and artistic director of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., earned $121,813. In 2010, Laura Kratt, former executive director of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, earned $83,000.

In 2011, the Palace Theatre in Albany hired a new executive director, Kevin T. Carlon. The Palace had been without an executive director since 2006, and Carlon’s salary was not disclosed when he was hired.

According to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters’ 2011 compensation survey report, the median total compensation for “principal directors,” i.e. the executive director of an arts organization, was just more than $104,000.

Experts say nonprofit CEO pay should be determined by the person’s experience and length of time with the organization, as well as the size of the organizations and how much organizations with similar missions pay their executive directors. One argument is that nonprofit organizations need to pay well if they want to compete with the private sector, where CEO compensation is considerably higher.

Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, has emerged as a vocal critic of CEO compensation. He said that CEO pay has soared throughout the country, and that abuses have been particularly egregious in higher education and the museum world. But he said those sky-high salaries are more common in large cities such as New York City, where compensation in the million-dollar range is not uncommon, and that smaller arts organizations have struggled in recent years, which has tended to keep salaries flat.

“So many arts organizations are dealing with real financial difficulties, and I don’t think they’re stupid enough to give their CEOs big increases,” Eisenberg said.

Chesbrough resigned in 2005 in the wake of a controversy related to the New York City Ballet. He announced plans to cancel the ballet, saying that it was too expensive, which sparked a state audit. The audit was critical of Chesbrough’s salary, and when White was hired, the SPAC board reported that her salary would range from $150,000 to $175,000.

But William Dake, who is just finishing a stint as chairman of the board of directors, said that SPAC settled on $205,170 after “doing an extensive survey” on what other performing arts directors are paid.

View Comments
Hide Comments
0 premium 1 premium 2 premium 3 premium 4 premium 5 premium 6 premium 7 premium article articles remaining SUBSCRIBE TODAY

You have reached your monthly premium content limit.

Continue to enjoy Daily Gazette premium content by becoming a subscriber.
Already a subscriber? Log In