October 20, 2010

Is the AGO's Curator/CEO overpaid?

ART HISTORY/CANADA - Two more employees of the Art Gallery of Ontario have left the AGO as the largest art gallery in Canada continues to struggle with its budget problems.

Part of the problem is curator/director/CEO Matthew Teitelbaum who in 2009 was paid $1.07 million in salary and bonus.

According to ex-employees, who don't want to be named, Teitelbaum will be paid over $1.2 million in 2010, despite the fact that he is doing such a shoddy job trying to get paying visitors through the doors.

The two latest employees to leave are:

Kristin Ferguson, executive director of corporate services and operations.

Michael Parke-Taylor, senior curator of modern art, who has been with the gallery for 23 years.

Recently the AGO also "let go" former curator/director Dennis Reid, one of the leading authorities on Canadian art.

And these are just 3 of a slew of employees who have been "let go" while the AGO continues to flounder financially and Matthew Teitelbaum continues to get paid more.

Teitelbaum's big summer exhibit "Drama and Desire" was a huge financial flop.

Some people might call that incompetence. Others might call it greed. Even more people might call it both.

Unless the AGO changes its spending the AGO will be at least $2 million dollars in debt by March 31st 2001.

Oh wait, is that not Matthew Teitelbaum's salary from the last 2 years?

Meanwhile Teitelbaum claims there’s no cause for alarm. Teitelbaum argues that rapid turnover is perfectly routine at the end of a huge expansion, such as the expansion and re-opening of the AGO two years ago after its makeover by architect Frank Gehry.

“It’s the norm at other institutions as well that after a completing a big project that has gone on for several years, people are ready for a change,” said Teitelbaum recently before flying to Paris on the AGO account.

But wait Matt... that was TWO YEARS AGO!

That does not explain why he has been paying himself such huge bonuses. And it certainly does not explain his jet setting around the world on the AGO account to view exhibitions at other art galleries.

Gail Dexter Lord, a respected Toronto-based consultant who works for five-star museums all over the world, does not agree with Teitelbaum. She also points out that 2 years have passed by and other cuts took place two years ago to try and balance the budget.

“What is happening now,” says Lord, “is typical for museums that have made unrealistic attendance and revenue projections to sell the project and then, after re-opening, failed to achieve those targets. There are usually systematic problems that have not been addressed in the building phase. And those problems don’t go away.”

Lord did not point at Teitelbaum or his excessive salary and yearly bonuses.

Ferguson and Parke-Taylor both said in interviews Tuesday they chose to leave on a voluntary and personal basis.

In the past several years the following people have been let go, retired or pushed out the door:

Bruce Ferguson: director of exhibitions in 2007; Catherine de Zegher: director of exhibitions and publications in 2009; Kate Davis, director of exhibitions in 2010; Paul Gilbert, Contract marketing director in 2010; Susan Bloch-Nevitte, Executive director of public affairs in 2010; Arlene Madell, Director of marketing in 2009; Linda Milrod, Program director of Transformation in 2010; Paul Altheer, Chief operating officer in 2007.

It would take 1 million visitors per year to make the AGO financially successful. Right now its getting roughly half of that. When you add that up the 500,000 paying visitors per year are basically giving $2 each to Matthew Teitelbaum.

Does the CEO of a failing art gallery really deserve a $1 million+ annual salary + bonus? Very doubtful.

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