Published: April 21, 2020
By Madelia Hickman Ring
Museums, large and small, in the United States and around the world, are facing an institutional crisis with tourist revenue curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic closures. With most museums relying on income from visitors to cover payroll and other expenses, many institutions are suddenly faced with dwindling streams of income. Where many museums in Europe receive government funding, institutions in the United States are largely unsupported and of the $2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress on March 25, only $50 million was allocated to museums and libraries. That figure is far less than the $4 billion requested by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community, which has estimated that museums nationwide lose an estimated $33 million each day during the closures.
Unlike many industries where work can be performed remotely, museums employ a number of workers who are imminently hands-on, whose job requires their presence on site; these would include conservators, art handlers, docents, security guards and staff in museum restaurants and gift shops.
What are museums to do? While many have priceless (or pricey?) works of art or objects in their collections (and can occasionally deaccession works to supplement acquisition funds), they are prevented from selling them off for such banal things as salaries and operating expenses. Some museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Getty Museums in Los Angeles, have sizeable endowments that they can – and have – dipped into to cover short-term shortfalls in income, but these museums are the rare exception and endowments are not a long-term solution.
Those museums that do not have the monetary cushion of an endowment are left with little choice but to lay off employees, shorten work hours, require those who are able to work from home to take a cut in pay, or all of the above.
At press time, the following museums had announced various cost-cutting measures; the list is likely to grow the longer art and culture tourism remain on lockdown.
Akron Art Museum (Akron, Ohio)
Salaries of department heads would be cut by ten percent with a dozen additional employees receiving a five percent pay cut. The ranks of part-time employees would grow by 12.
American Swedish Institute (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Part-time staff has been laid off.
Annenberg Space for Photography (Los Angeles)
Eight staff members have been furloughed. The remaining staff will have their hours reduced and will take pay cuts during the closure.
The Arkansas Arts Center (Little Rock, Ark.)
Furloughed more than one-third of its full-time staff through at least May 18
Berkshire Museum (Pittsfield, Mass.)
The art, history and natural science museum laid off five or six employees whose jobs could not be done remotely.
The Broad (Los Angeles)
The private museum paid staff members who can’t work remotely until at least April 8.
California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco)
At press time, no changes had been made but leadership was considering beginning hour reductions, furloughs or layoffs in May.
Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Penn.)
The Museums of Art and Natural History, Carnegie Science Center and the Andy Warhol Museum would remain closed for at least two months. Staff members being furloughed are those unable to work from home or whose roles are not required during a prolonged period of closure. In addition, the organization is instituting temporary pay reductions for the remaining staff.
Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio)
Furloughed all part-time staff, about one-third of its 500 employees and temporarily laid off part of its unionized staff. In addition, all non-union employees had their work-week shortened by five hours per week.
Contemporary Jewish Museum (San Francisco)
Pledged to pay regular full- and part-time employees through April 30; contract workers were not paid.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (San Francisco)
The umbrella organization for the de Young and Legion of Honor museums have reduced the employment of external contractors and paid on-call personnel only through shifts scheduled before the shutdown.
Frye Art Museum (Seattle, Wash.)
All nonexempt part-time and on-call employees, one-third of the museum’s workforce, were laid off.
The Getty Museums (Los Angeles)
Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades are committed to paying all its part-time and hourly employees “as long as this goes on,” according to a representative for the museum. Additionally, the museum is giving all part-time and hourly employees an additional three weeks of paid sick leave in response to the pandemic.
Guggenheim Museum (New York City)
The Guggenheim Museum has furloughed 92 employees. Staff, including museum leadership, making more than $80,000 – a decision that will affect 85 employees – will take salary reductions on a graduated basis. Furloughed employees with unused or accrued vacation time will be paid in a lump sum by May 1. Employees receiving healthcare will be covered until the date of rehire or July 31, whichever comes first.
Hammer Museum at UCLA (Los Angeles)
150 part-time student workers were laid off on March 24 but would receive pay through April 10.
Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield, Mass.)
Ten of its 22 employees have been laid off; the museum will not hire two dozen seasonal staff members.
Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, Mich.)
Beginning April 6, 1,400 employees would be put on temporary unpaid leave. The remaining staff will receive a 10-20 percent reduction in pay.
House of European History (Brussels, Belgium)
Laid off all temporary employees.
Houston Museum of Natural Science (Houston, Texas)
Seventy percent of the staff have been furloughed, with the remaining 144 staff taking a 15 percent pay cut.
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (North Adams, Mass.)
As of April 11, 120 of Mass MoCA’s 165 staff were laid off.
Memphis Brooks Museum (Memphis, Tenn.)
As of April 6, 29 employees were furloughed, including full-time, part-time and salaried positions.
Minnesota Historical Society (St Paul, Minn.)
From May 1 to June 30, 274 employees – slightly less than half of the total staff – will be furloughed.
Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco)
Seven staff members have been laid off; the remaining 11 employees have had their hours reduced.
Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles)
All 97 part-time employees were laid off in late March; as of April 3, nearly all of its full-time employees would receive full or partial furloughs as well as “significant” salary cuts. Furloughed employees would be paid through April 17, would receive vacation payouts and would retain medical and dental benefits.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston)
Between 325 and 340 of its 750 employees would be furloughed. The museum would be dipping into its endowment which, as of June 2019, held $605 million.
Museum of Modern Art (New York City)
Laid off all 85 freelance education workers, who were paid through March 30.
The Museum of Russian Art (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minn.)
All but two of the museum’s ten employees were furloughed, with the remaining two working part-time.
Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (Los Angeles)
All part-time tour guides and two full-time ticket booth attendants have been furloughed.
Mystic Seaport Museum (Mystic, Conn.)
The museum announced plans to close indefinitely and to lay off 199 employees, 68 of which are full-time.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (Los Angeles)
Part-time and hourly staff were paid through March.
New Museum (New York City)
Seven staff were laid off because of permanent programming cuts, with health care benefits paid to June 30; an additional 41 employees of its full- and part-time staff of 150 were furloughed.
The Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge, Mass.)
Furloughed 42 of its 65 staff members; remaining employees will take a salary cut and work part-time. Full healthcare benefits will be provided for enrolled furloughed employees.
Oakland Museum (Oakland, Calif.)
Hours have been reduced for 106 full-time staff members to retain 44 part-time employees; the executive team will take a “significant pay cut.” Staff will continue to receive benefits including health insurance, paid sick leave and retirement contributions.
Oregon Museum of Science and industry (Portland, Ore.)
Unspecified layoffs and paycuts have been announced. At press time, the museum had not responded to a request for comment.
Orlando Museum of Art (Orlando, Fla.)
About 20 percent of the staff have been furloughed while the rest work remotely.
Orlando Science Center (Orlando, Fla.)
All part-time staff and 50 percent of full-time staff have been furloughed; the museum continuing to pay health insurance and allowing workers to use accrued time off.
Parlamentarium (Brussels, Belgium)
Laid off all temporary employees
Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, Penn.)
Pay cuts made to all employee making more than $30,000 annually; layoffs had not been announced.
Pittsburgh Glass Center (Pittsburgh, Penn.)
All 21 employees will be paid through March 31. Hours were then to be reduced by 50 percent across the board and the glass furnaces will be shut down to reduce utility costs.
Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center (Portland, Ore.)
As of April 16, 80 percent of its workforce would be furloughed, with senior management taking a pay cut. Medical and dental benefits will be paid through June.
San Francisco Aquarium (San Francisco)
Furloughed 70 percent of its staff.
San Francisco Exploratorium (San Francisco)
Would make changes and reductions affecting approximately 85 percent of its staff
SFMOMA (San Francisco)
Beginning April 9, 135 on-call staffers were laid off and, as of May 1, the museum would furlough or reduce the hours of nearly 200 employees; management would take a salary cut. The institution’s regular employees will have health-care benefits through the museum for two months after they are furloughed, with the museum paying 100 percent of premiums.
Science Museum of Minnesota & Minnesota Children’s Museum (Minneapolis-St Paul, Minn.)
The Science Museum has laid off 87 percent of its staff; the Children’s Museum has furloughed 75 percent of its staff. Furloughs will affect approximately 600 employees. Medical benefits will be paid through April 30.
Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City)
The museum furloughed 76 employees who were unable to work remotely.
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