One of London’s most prestigious art galleries has courted controversy in the art world following its decision to advertise a job on its website that it described as ‘Head of Coffee’. Of course, few professionals in the museum and gallery sector would underestimate the importance of visitor hospitality in terms of museum income these days but the role has raised eyebrows. This is largely due to the fact that its reported salary is so high compared with other museum roles. In fact, Tate has said that it will offer a salary of £39,500 for the job.
Some people in the art world immediately took to social media to mock Tate Britain for its move. Many were keen to stress that the position meant that the successful candidate would be paid more than a typical art curator in the capital. According to data put together by the employment website, Glassdoor, the average for that sort of museum role constitutes a salary of £37,373. Though few people criticised the decision to pay a competitive salary for the hospitality role focussing on coffee, many pointed out that the mission of Tate ought to be more art focussed than the advertised job role suggests.
The Job Description
When Tate advertised the head of coffee job, it stated that the position would require the successful applicant to work a 40-hour week. The role would include the “sourcing, blending and roasting” of a number of different coffee beans. Indeed, the ideal candidate, according to the advertisement, would be able to demonstrate that they had an extensive amount of experience in espresso quality control as well as what it referred to as ‘cupping’.
When the British press picked up on the job advert, some journalists pointed out how seriously the gallery was taking coffee while art, by contrast, was seen as being sidelined somewhat. The artist, Grayson Perry, commented on the story on Twitter by simply saying, “I give up, they’ve won.”
Tate – which is a network of galleries in the UK from St Ives in Cornwall to Liverpool on Merseyside – defended the level of pay it was offering for the role. It said that it was not really fair to compare a head of department within the hospitality side of the gallery’s work with a curatorial role which was at a different level, as some of the newspaper articles on the subject had done.
“All of the Tate’s departments have a variety of roles with different responsibilities and salaries are set accordingly,” it said in a statement. A spokesperson for the gallery went on to add that such strata within the employment structure of the gallery included its curatorial roles. “A more accurate comparison [with the head of coffee role]… would be a curatorial team leader,” the Tate’s spokesperson argued. “Senior roles across the gallery group should all be paid appropriately, no matter which department.”
Too Much Pay?
Although the backlash against the advertised salary and job description was marked, few commentators said the role was noteworthy because it paid too much, rather that average gallery staff were under-rewarded for their work. Alan Leighton, who is the national secretary Prospect – a trade union with many museum sector workers among its membership – said the level of pay on offer for the head of coffee job offered a stark reminder that many highly qualified museum professionals are paid far too little.
“Without these qualified and specialist employees,” he said, “there would be no galleries and no museums.” Leighton went on to say that he thought it was now time that low pay in the sector was sufficiently recognised and that roles in the industry were rewarded properly. He specifically singled out heritage-specific roles in the art sector where low pay was the norm, commenting that the situation at present is “appalling” and that it could not continue.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.