James Cuno will be a million-dollar administrator

In August, when James Cuno steps into the office with the magnificent eastward-looking panoramic view of L.A. that James Wood had occupied as president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, he’ll also step into pretty much the same pay package, according to Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig.

Had he lived, Wood, who was found dead of natural causes last June in his Brentwood home, was due to earn $728,000 a year in base pay for fiscal 2011-12, plus a $240,000 annual housing stipend; additionally, he would have received $500,000 in deferred payments this year that had been agreed to when he started in 2007.

The numbers “are essentially the same” for Cuno as he begins a five-year contract that extends through July 2016, Hartwig said. His package includes the same base pay and housing allowance Wood was poised to earn, plus the same signing bonus of $250,000 and relocation expenses of $150,000 that Wood received upon leaving semi-retirement in Rhode Island to lead the Getty.

Cuno can look forward to first-year total compensation of $1.368 million — which automatically will bump up to $1.468 million when he finishes the first year of his contract, although he won’t receive the extra $100,000 until his 65th birthday on April 5, 2016. If he’s still running the Getty on that day, Cuno’s transition into senior citizenship will be eased by a check for $500,000 covering all his deferred pay — the same total provided in Wood’s deal.


After his first year, Cuno’s annual earnings will drop to $1.068 million, not counting any raises or bonuses. Wood received a 4% raise in base pay after his first year, followed by a 6% pay cut in 2009-10 as part of the Getty’s recession belt-tightening.

Cuno, who earned $805,000 in 2008-09 as director of the Art Institute of Chicago, according to its most recent available tax return, will be among a handful of million-dollar arts administrators in the United States. They include Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose salary, bonus and deferred compensation totaled $1.2 million in 2008-09 according to the museum’s tax return, and Deborah Borda, who totaled $1.38 million the same year as president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Unlike nearly all other arts organizations, the Getty has a policy of making up-to-date public disclosures of its leaders’ pay — the result of a drive for transparency and accountability following a mid-2000s scandal over questionable management practices and improper expenses that led to the resignation of former Getty President Barry Munitz. Other nonprofits must disclose top employees’ earnings in their annual tax returns, but because of allowed filing extensions, those often don’t arrive for nearly a year following the close of an organization’s fiscal year.

Although Cuno’s job may be farther-flung than his peers’ because of the Trust’s unusual international mandates in grantmaking, art conservation and art research, he’s largely excused from one of the most pressure-packed and time-consuming tasks faced by Govan, Borda and virtually all other leaders of nonprofit arts organizations: the never-ending fundraising that’s essential for their institutions to prosper — and sometimes to survive.

At the Art Institute of Chicago, Cuno presided over fundraising that averaged about $100 million a year in 2007-08 and 2008-09. At the Getty, a huge endowment that stood at $4.83 billion as of last June 30 generates enough earnings to cover the trust’s annual expenses of about $282 million.

Govan must raise money both for LACMA’s ongoing $450-million expansion and renovation campaign and for annual operations costing about $75 million — in addition to trying to corral coveted donations of art. The museum raised an average of $72 million a year his first four years on the job. In 2009-10, donations and grants totaled $35.5 million, covering nearly half the museum’s expenses. Under Borda, the Phil raised an average of $27.4 million in donations from 2004-05 to 2008-09 — about 30% of its budgets.