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Baltimore’s two largest museums raise minimum wage to $15 an hour for most low-paid employees

The change will affect about 50 staffers at the Baltimore Museum of Art (pictured) and 31 full-time employees at the Walters Art Museum.
The change will affect about 50 staffers at the Baltimore Museum of Art (pictured) and 31 full-time employees at the Walters Art Museum. (Dan Rodricks)

Baltimore’s two largest art museums are raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour for their lowest-paid, full-time employees, including the security guards who protect priceless artworks by Henri Matisse and Auguste Rodin.

The change affects about 50 staffers at the Baltimore Museum of Art and 31 full-time employees at the Walters Art Museum. Thirteen part-time workers at the Walters will receive a pay bump to $13 an hour.

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That means that nearly 30% of the staffs of both museums will see a boost to their take-home pay. Before the raise, the minimum wage at the BMA was $13.50 an hour. The minimum wage at the Walters was $14.25 an hour for full-time staff members and $12.25 an hour for part-time employees.

Both arts institutions would have needed to raise the pay for these workers by 2025, when Maryland’s minimum wage increases to $15 an hour for companies with more than 15 employees. But the museums’ leaders decided they couldn’t wait that long.

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”The time to achieve a diverse and equitable environment was years and years and years ago,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s director. ”Taking our time and moving methodically is not in alignment with where the country is right now. The imperative to move fast is enormous.”

The BMA announced the salary hike Thursday as part of a package of $1.5 million in gifts it has secured from local and national philanthropists to fund diversity initiatives. The raises took effect Feb. 1, a few days before the museum reopened to visitors by appointment.

The Walters announced in January that it had received donations to raise the pay for its lowest-paid workers when the museum resumes welcoming visitors in mid-March.

“This commitment is not just a one-time pay increase,” said Julia Marciari-Alexander, the Walters’ executive director and CEO. “It is a civic initiative and part of a larger conversation nationwide about the need for a real living wage, notably in the museum field.”

Thursday’s announcement by the BMA is the newest development in Bedford’s months-long campaign to find the money to pay for a slew of diversity initiatives during a global pandemic.

The BMA became embroiled in a nationwide controversy last fall when the board of trustees voted to deaccession (or sell) three paintings from its collection by the modern masters Andy Warhol, Clyfford Styll and Brice Marden.

At the time, Bedford said he hoped the sale would generate $50 million for an endowment that would, among other things, raise salaries for the lowest-paid workers to $20 an hour — a goal he remains committed to — and eliminate fees for special exhibitions. (General admission has been free at the BMA and Walters since 2006.)

A group of art lovers asked Maryland’s attorney general to stop the sale, and the resulting firestorm put the BMA in the spotlight nationwide. The sale was called off less than three hours before two of the paintings were scheduled to go under the gavel at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York.

Though Bedford’s path was blocked, he didn’t give up.

The BMA announced Thursday that it secured a $350,000 gift to open the museum one night a week, tentatively beginning in the spring of 2022. The announcement also included a $1 million gift from Los Angeles-based philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. Half will be used for the endowment, and the remaining $500,000 will pay for a comprehensive series of internal diversity workshops at the BMA.

“With the exception of weekends, we are open only on the hours when a normal working person cannot attend the museum,“ Bedford said. “To be the accessible museum we want to be, we had to change our own schedule.”

The Walters, in contrast, has remained largely out of the limelight. But behind the scenes, Marciari-Alexander has worked to accomplish many of the same goals.

The Walters was open Thursday nights from 2012 to the onset of the pandemic; Marciari-Alexander said she plans to reinstate evening hours as soon as possible. Unlike the BMA, the Walters does not charge for special exhibitions.

And the pay raises have been in the works for years; Marciari-Alexander said that $15 an hour is merely the first step.

”We’ve had a longstanding commitment to reaching a $15 an hour floor for full-time positions,” she said, “and we remained steadfast in pursuit of that goal. We are grateful to our donors, whose financial support has enabled us to make this investment in our employees and our community.”

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