Pay at museum an artless dodge

By Todd Cohen

The N.C. Museum of Art and its director are hooked on philanthropic steroids.

In violation of state law, says a State Auditor’s Office report, the private North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation in 2004 spent $373,000 to supplement salaries of 33 of 79 employees of the museum, a division of the state Department of Cultural Resources.

That spending did not include another $260,420 the foundation paid to Larry Wheeler, the museum’s director, to boost his $97,621 state pay with a salary supplement, consulting fees and auto expenses.

And he was reimbursed another $57,140 for travel and entertainment expenses.

The foundation also paid the salaries of two foundation employees who are the museum’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

The state auditor’s office says the mingled operations of the foundation and museum now constitute a “hybrid” organization, with the foundation exercising “extensive control” over daily museum operations.

In an ideal world, Wheeler and his staff should not get juiced-up pay denied to other state employees, and a private foundation not accountable to state government should not run the museum.

Yet because state government is no cultural or business visionary, it should find a way, within moderation, to allow effective public-private partnerships.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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