The High Price of Missouri History; Compensation; Comparison Shopping for Museum Directors; OTHER VIEWS

Article excerpt

In April 2010, Nina M. Archabal retired after 23 years as director of the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. At the time of her retirement, she was being paid $285,000 a year, way better than the $185,000 that John Herbst was making as head of the Indiana Historical Society or the lousy $146,600 that Paul Levengood was making as head of the Virginia Historical Society.

On the other hand, Ms. Archabal was making about $108,000 a year less than the $393,281 that Robert R. Archibald was paid to run the Missouri Historical Society that year.

On the third hand, I did find a history-plus museum director who was paid more than Mr. Archibald: Thomas Ott got $523,158 for running the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Archibald's total compensation package is $8,000 less than that.

The base compensation figures all come from the Form 990s that not-for-profit organizations are obliged to file with the Internal Revenue Service.

I was drawn to the Archabal/Archibald comparison by the similarity in their names and the fact that they both took over their respective institutions at about the same time - Ms. Archabal in 1987 and Mr. Archibald a year later. Both presided over major capital programs. The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park attracts more visitors every year - 364,000 in 2011 to the Minnesota History Center's 230,000.

The good thing is you can get into the Missouri History Museum for free. Minnesota charges 11 bucks. Plus the Minnesota Historical Society operates 25 other state historical sites ("See Lindbergh's Boyhood Home!") which draw another half-million visitors a year.

A little more than half the Minnesota society's $63 million in revenue last year came from the state government, which made big cuts this year. The Missouri Historical Society's budget is about a fourth of that, but it's more secure; it has its own pot of money, thanks to its inclusion in the Zoo-Museum tax district.

To add it all up, the Minnesota operation is four times the size of Missouri's and draws 366,000 more visitors. And yet the Missouri Historical Society Board of Trustees was paying Mr. Archibald $108,000 more than Minnesota was paying Ms. Archabal and deems him so irreplaceable that they just gave him a new $375,000 base-pay contract. Plus perks. Lots of perks.

I suppose it was the minivan that got to me, the 2011 Toyota Sienna that the History Museum is providing Mr. Archibald. Last summer I bought a 12-year-old Sienna with 80,000 miles on it and thought I got a good deal. …


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