Chicago museum leaders’ pay: What they make and why

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They are the city’s stewards of culture, overseeing intellectual pursuits from Mars to mollusks to Matisse.

The leaders of Chicago’s museums also are a hybrid of corporate CEO, fundraiser and politician. They must keep their institutions in the black amid a faltering economy that has caused endowments to tumble and donors to close their wallets.

Given those tough times, executive salaries like theirs have gone under the microscope, too.

The heads of the Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry had base pay of about $400,000 or higher in the last fiscal year, with other compensation that more than doubled the amount for two of them. They are among the biggest earners in the nonprofit world, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Those salaries are no secret, annually noted in several publications and online databases accessible to the public. Some elected officials and nonprofit watchdogs think the pay is approaching excessive levels in some cases. In this financial crunch, the four highest earners among museum chiefs in Chicago have taken pay cuts or salary freezes.

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