May Have Spoken Too Soon About Salary Transparency Efforts

Apropos to my post yesterday about New York City requiring employers to list their salary range starting next month, I was happy to Vu Le’s tweet about Washington State passing a similar law.

However, there was bit of a “maybe I spoke too soon..” moment at the end of the Seattle Times article which mentioned that the NYC law may be amended before it goes into effect. Sure enough, two days ago The City reported that amendments are being introduced which may create loopholes and delay implementation until November.

“While the amendments are being sold as innocuous tweaks, when you read them closely they would essentially undo much of [the new law],” said Seher Khawaja, senior counsel for Legal Momentum, a national advocacy group for girls and women. “We think it would really undermine the impact of the law by excluding a large sector of New York’s workforce from the protections.”

One of the people quoted in the article represents a business group in NYC. Her rationale for not publicizing salary ranges because it might lead to salary inflation sounds a little flimsy given that the salary and compensation packages of CEOs and others have continued out of proportion to that of the employees despite not being publicized.

Among the other concerns, she said larger businesses risk getting out-bid by competitors if they make their salary ceilings public. She said the public postings could also spark salary inflation during a hiring crunch when current workers see a maximum posted that’s much higher than what it’s been historically.

The article about the transparency law in Washington notes that it doesn’t go into effect for another 10 months. Given that NYC’s law is facing revision only about a month out from its implementation is a warning to advocates to remain vigilant until the rules go into effect.  The Seattle Times piece quoted a business professor at University of Washington who observed it may take years for the effects of a law to be seen because inequities accumulate over people’s careers. How effective a law is at eliminating those inequities will require observation of years.

Starting Small And Building Momentum

Last month, The Art Newspaper reported that NYC would begin requiring all employers to disclose the salary range of jobs starting on May 15. Many saw this as a positive step for the arts world as well as the employment environment at large, especially since it applies to many different employment arrangements, including internships.

The new ruling, an amendment to New York City Human Rights Law passed by the city council last December, applies to roles that are remote or in-person, permanent and short-term contracts, and to interns. Any company with more than four employees must adhere to it or risk civil penalties rising to $125,000 from the New York City Commission on Human Rights.


This small shift, he says, could transform the hiring process, and potentially the wage structure, of some of the top cultural institutions in the US, many of which have been subject to activist campaigns and union pushes in recent years due to huge internal wage inequalities


Finkelpearl describes New York City’s new law as being “long overdue” and sees it as part of a “generational shift around how people look at their jobs”. He points out that it comes in the wake of the so-called Great Resignation, or the Big Quit, which saw millions of workers across the country resign from their jobs during 2021.

A tidbit I found interesting came near the end of the article where it was noted that New York State (NYS) had made it illegal for employers to ask about salary history in January 2020, but that New York City had passed that law in October 2017. As far as I can tell, New York State hasn’t passed a law about wage transparency similar to NYC’s, but there was a subtle implication that it may come in the future.

While we have seen some state governments use preemption to overrule laws made on the municipal level, there are frequently times that city level laws can evolve to encompass the whole state –even in the face of preemption. The Ballotpedia article on preemption I just linked to cites NYS governor’s override of NYC’s plastic bag ban in 2017, but a statewide ban was eventually implemented in 2020.

I bring this up because there may be some hope and value in advocating for arts and cultural causes on the local level and seeing it expand to the state. Of course, a large segment of the population needs to see the need/value to have an investment in putting laws and rules forward.  The report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences I wrote about yesterday frames the need to support culture in terms of extant support for other industry segments.   Or as in the case of Minnesota’s Legacy Fund, Art & Culture made common cause with wildlife/wilderness preservation.

Come For A Haircut, See A Van Gogh

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone running an arts venue that many attendees are over the mask wearing thing. At my venue, we actually had a more conservative mandatory policy for mask wearing than our university parent. At the beginning of December, we were prevailed upon to loosen those restrictions by my boss so for about two weeks we were at “strongly suggested” before the omicron surge saw everyone, including our parent organization institute mandatory masking again.  Still, it wasn’t long after the new year that we had people leveraging loopholes to avoid wearing masks.

Over the holidays I was amused to read that some landmark institutions in the Netherlands were chafing against restrictions there in a fairly creative way. The Van Gogh Museum, Mauritshuis gallery, and Concertgebouw concert hall engaged some barbers, nail artists and fitness instructors to provide services at their venues because those businesses weren’t restricted in the way that art institutions were.

“We wanted to make the point that a museum is a safe visit and we should be open,” Van Gogh Museum director Emilie Gordenker told AFP.

“The mayor called me last night and she said she’s not permitting this. We expect to get a warning at some point after which we will have to close, but we wanted to make this point very badly so here we are.”

One of the barber’s clients said he had come because he was “pro-culture”.


Nearby, the “Hair salon at the Concertgebouw” event saw two masked barbers clip hair on stage, while the orchestra played Symphony No. 2 by Charles Iver.

“After two years of patience and an ever-constructive attitude, it is high time for a fair perspective for the cultural sector,” Concertgebouw director Simon Renink said.

Fitness classes took place at the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague, home to Vermeer’s famed “Girl with the Peal Earring, while the Speelklok museum in Utrecht set itself up as a gym.

No mention of whether the ubiquitous “Shave and a Haircut” riff was played anywhere.

While the pandemic is certainly going to force arts organizations to rethink their business models, I am not sure that salon services are going to become the next trend. Exercise and yoga classes at museums and galleries was a thing pre-pandemic so I wouldn’t completely discount the idea.

The story does remind us that arts people are very creative thinkers. If arts leaders are willing to exercise this skillset in defiance of governments, perhaps they will be more willing to try new ideas without fearing the reactions of funders and donors as much


Looking To Public Art To Revitalize Cities Post-Covid

Somewhat in line with my post yesterday about the growing number of basic guarantee income programs for artists, had an interview with the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, about the beginning of a 10 year initiative to create public art. The program had been delayed by the start of Covid and the mayor says that has created an even greater need for public works of art.

This is true for a couple of reasons: first, I think the sense of joy — the look and feel of the city being enlivened by artistic creations of all kinds — became even more important after a desolate period when you’d walk around downtown and it was bleak, I mean it was a wasteland. The second reason, which was valid before but now became 100 times more valid, was that it also allows some of our artists to tell their stories. And beyond the benefits to us of having those stories told and those works displayed, this program will retain the services of 1,500 artists over the course of this year. That’s not unimportant in the context of a group that has been very hard hit. I’m not minimizing the problems other people have had, but artists had a terrible time. Now there’s a need to bring the city back to life and there’s nothing like the arts and culture to do that.

I was interested to see the interviewer, Jonathan Dekel, follow up by asking the mayor how this vision of supporting artists and their importance to the city reconciles with the concerns about gentrification displacing the artists. The mayor made mention of some measures like tax relief for music venues and affordable housing arrangements which recognize that artists’ income is not regular from month to month.