To Run the British Museum, You’ll Get $275,000 and a Host of Problems

Wanted: Someone to restore trust in one of the world’s most visited museums after an embarrassing scandal, handle restitution claims and raise $1.27 billion for a major refurbishment.

Salary: $275,000 a year.

The British Museum in London this week began the search for a new director. Four months ago, Hartwig Fischer resigned from that position after the museum announced that one of its curators had looted around 1,500 items from its storerooms, then sold some on eBay.

In September, Mark Jones, a former leader of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was appointed to run the British Museum, but only on an interim basis.

Applicants for the permanent position must have a “vision for the future of the British Museum and its purpose as a national and a global museum in the 21st century,” the job posting says. But they must also be able to deal with a host of problems affecting the august institution, which is the world’s third most visited museum.

As well as the fallout from the theft scandal, which has damaged morale among the museum’s nearly 1,000-strong staff, the chosen candidate will have to manage calls for the return of contested objects in the museum’s collection, including hundreds of Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles. The new director will also need to lead fund-raising efforts for a refurbishment project involving a reorganization of the museum’s galleries and improvements to the museum’s plumbing, heating and leaky roof. The Financial Times has reported that it will cost 1 billion pounds, around $1.27 billion.

Last October, George Osborne, the museum’s chairman, told British lawmakers that finding the right candidate to lead the institution was “a very, very complicated job.” Because it is also a research organization, Osborne added, the successful applicant would need “to command the respect of the academic community,” as well as having experience “managing large, complex organizations.”

Hartwig Fischer, a German art historian, led the institution from 2016 until August, when he resigned after it emerged that a curator had looted thousands of items from the museum’s collections.Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

The director will be paid £215,841 a year, about $275,000, according to the listing. That sum is paltry compared to the salaries paid to the directors of equivalent American institutions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York pays Max Hollein, its director, a base salary of $1 million, according to tax filings. In the United States, some museum directors also receive luxury housing on top of their salary.

Observers regularly mention a handful of serious contenders for the British Museum job. Those include Ian Blatchford, the director of the Science Museum in London; Nicholas Cullinan, who leads Britain’s National Portrait Gallery and who recently oversaw a multimillion pound renovation of that institution; and Taco Dibbits, the director-general of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, who has overseen some of Europe’s most talked-about recent exhibitions, including a blockbuster 2023 Vermeer retrospective.

Representatives for Cullinan, Dibbits and Blatchford all declined to comment.

In keeping with recent high-profile American museum appointments, the job listing suggests that the British Museum’s trustees are open to unexpected, or even outsider, applicants. “We are agnostic about the type of candidate we are looking for, whether that is someone from within or outside the museum sector,” the listing says. Last year, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation named Mariët Westermann, the vice chancellor of N.Y.U. Abu Dhabi, as its new leader.

Potential applicants have just a couple of weeks to apply for the role: The closing date is Jan. 26.

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