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Is Michael Govan Worth a Million Bucks?

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Michael Govan talks lobster at last year’s opening of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum

The short answer to the question in the above headline? Yes.

The LA Times has been casting a harsh spotlight on the compensation of Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who reportedly is receiving nearly $1 million this year in salary, deferred compensation and benefits.

Alan Zarembo and Mike Boehm (at the first link above) seem to be trying to make a case out of it:

In good times, eyebrows might be raised over whether $1 million a year is a fair wage for a director of a nonprofit museum. But in the midst of a recession that has forced budget cuts and layoffs at museums around the country, the issue becomes more loaded….

His compensation, about a 50% increase over that of his predecessor, places him in an elite group of art museum directors who for the most part preside over institutions more prestigious and many times richer than LACMA.

I’d say that Govan is 50% better than his predecessor and, by virtue of his energetic, creative, principled and effective leadership, he undeniably belongs in the “elite group of art museum directors.” Don’t pay him what he deserves, and he just might consider other options.

When I interviewed him in February 2008, at the opening of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum, I asked the obligatory Metropolitan Museum-succession question. Unlike other museum hoppers, Govan (rumored to be a possible contender) dismissed the notion of leaving his post so soon after his 2006 arrival, when there was so much yet to be accomplished in LA.

Can you buy that sense of loyalty and responsibility? Yes. As I previously opined here:

But every time a journalist gets hold of information about the salaries of the top officials of major cultural institutions, the resulting story makes these public servants seem overpaid….But I feel that major cultural institutions do well to pay their top officials well. Otherwise the best people will be lost to private industry, leaving culture in the hands of mediocrities.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. So do those who have commented (thus far) on the LA Times disclosures about Govan’s remuneration.

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