Salary Disparities in WR’s Cultural Pillar Organizations

In recent years, the cultural organizations dubbed “pillars” in Waterloo Region – THEMUSEUM, The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, The Grand Philharmonic Choir and The Canadian Clay and Glass Museum – have been at the forefront of public discussion.

In 2015 – amidst the demise of the Creative Enterprise Institute – THEMUSEUM, the Symphony and the Art Gallery all requested fast-tracked funding from the City of Kitchener to aid with cash flow and planning. Later that year, all five organizations were under external review of municipal funding for cultural institutions. Following the release of the review, the organizations spoke to the regional council, lobbying for funding to increase with inflation over time.

In November of 2016, the groups became subject to new accountability rules under their municipalities, which required each organization to sign documents outlining their goals for the money allotted. The Region of Waterloo initiated a working group comprised of regional, City of Kitchener and City of Waterloo staff to review the estimated $1.7 million granted to the organizations in 2014 (in-kind and capital assistance not included).

Most recently, Lucille Bish, the Region’s cultural services director, and all of the pillar organizations except the Grand Philharmonic Choir, addressed council to note their financial struggle while trying to maintain quality programming, attract talent and make cultural contributions to the community.

Given the attention offered to the five pillars in recent headlines, we thought we’d break down exactly what supports these pillars. With data from the Canadian Revenue Agency, we’ve illustrated salary distribution, full and part time staff fluctuation and overall revenue from the region’s pillars between 2011 and 2015.

Before you jump into the data, an important note about revenue. Cultural organizations (especially art galleries) sometimes receive donated art works. The CRA categorizes such gifts as receipted revenue, though gifted art does not necessarily directly contribute to an organization’s operating budget. For example, in 2015 KWAG received over $1 million worth of art donations, which executive director Shirley Madill said, by email, is “never to be sold,” and so should not be considered revenue.

Because 2016 data was only available for two of the five organizations, we chose not to include it.


Forty-five percent of THEMUSEUM’s revenue was allocated to staffing costs in 2015, although staffing dropped from 84 people in 2011 to 46 in 2015. Those staffing changes followed declines in annual revenue, which, in 2015, was down about $700,000 since 2011. While THEMUSEUM saw the second largest annual revenue of all pillars in 2015, seven of the 10 highest paid employees made less than $40,000. Since 2013, the highest paid staff person at THEMUSEUM has been two full salary brackets, or a minimum of $80,000, above the next highest paid staff person. No other organization includes such a large pay gap between the highest paid staff person and the next in line. THEMUSEUM does, however, generate a higher percentage of its own revenue than any other pillar organization. In 2015 this figure accounted for 61 per cent of all revenue. Most recently, THEMUSEUM hosted exhibitions including “QUANTUM: The Exhibition,” and “Nature Unleashed,” and they celebrated 10 years with current CEO David Marskell.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony

With the largest staff base of the pillars (depending on the year and musical talent required, the number of part time musicians fluctuates immensely), it makes sense that the Symphony doled out upwards of $3.4 million for staffing costs in 2015 – 62 per cent of its annual revenue. Of the 10 highest paid full time staff members, the Symphony steadily increased the number of employees within the $40,000 to $79,999 bracket, moving from four to nine employees in five years. During this period, the highest paid staff member remained in the same salary bracket, only making the jump over $120,000 in 2014 before sliding back down in 2015. This was the same year that the Symphony marked its 70th anniversary (and received a $70,000 donation to match), went through its first year under Andrew Bennett’s direction, moved all of the 10 highest paid employees to a salary above $40,000, saw a $380,000 increase in revenue after two years of decline, and vowed to pay down a deficit marked at 18 per cent of the Symphony’s revenue.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery

While the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery’s 2015 revenue looks to be just shy of THEMUSEUM’s, they spent around 26 per cent of their annual revenue on 29 staff people, 19 per cent less than THEMUSEUM’s 45 percent of revenue on 46 staff. In 2015 the highest paid staff person at KWAG sat in the median bracket, $80,000 to $119,000, and has stayed there for all five years in question. The remainder of the ten highest paid employees are divided fairly equally in the under $79,999 and under $40,000 brackets. KWAG’s revenue make-up is very different than that of the other organizations. In 2015, one year shy of their 60th anniversary, about 60 per cent of KWAG’s revenue came from receipted and non-receipted donations, and over $1 million of those receipted donations were not monetary gifts, but gifts of art. Writing to us by email, KWAG executive director Madill took issue with the CRA’s considering donated art as revenue, writing that “donated artwork is not considered revenue – as it is artwork and never to be sold or considered such.”

The Grand Philharmonic Choir

The Grand Philharmonic Choir operates on a relatively miniscule budget and one staff person; while they are regarded as a valuable cultural contribution, they’re considered differently when it comes to municipal and regional funding decisions. News readers will notice that they often aren’t part of the pillar-based council discussions or headlines, but they were addressed in the 2015 review of arts funding. The Grand Philharmonic has not reported more than one staff person since 2011, and in 2015, this person moved from full to part time. While the Grand Philharmonic revenue was only $411,205, this number was actually made of a higher percentage of gifts from other charities and non-receipted donations than any other pillar organization. Recently the choir’s conductor, Mark Vuorinen, was awarded the Leslie Ball Award for choral conducting.

The Clay & Glass Gallery

The Clay & Glass Gallery’s revenue, made almost entirely of government funding and general revenue, sat at just over $1 million in 2015. And while their revenue is roughly half that of THEMUSEUM or KWAG’s, about 39 per cent was eaten up by staffing costs for 10 full time and six part time staff. In 2015, seven of those ten employees found themselves in the lowest salary bracket (on par with THEMUSEUM that year). Encouragingly, part time positions appear to have been replaced by full time positions over the years. In 2016 the Gallery received over $1 million in combined federal and municipal funding to foot the bill for renovations.

This article highlighted a few notable trends in funding for, and decisions within Waterloo Region’s pillar cultural organizations. Compare the data below with what your favourite institutions offer and the value they contribute to this community. Do the numbers align? Let us know at @TheCommunityEd.

Disclosure: Allison Leonard worked at THEMUSEUM from September 2015 to February 2016. It’s possible that her salary for that period is included in the 2015 “less than $40,000” bracket of the salary distribution graph, but the CRA does not release individual names.

Update: on Feb. 3 this story was updated to explicitly note that the CRA includes donated art-works as receipted revenue, and to include Shirley Madill’s comments about revenue and donated art.