Damien Hirst Laid Off 63 Studio Staffers While Benefiting From a $21 Million Government Bailout Last Fall

Former employees have accused the artist of treating staff as "disposable."

British artist Damien Hirst poses during the press preview of "Cherry Blossoms" on July 2, 2021 at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images.

Artist Damien Hirst laid off 63 people from his studio team last fall, despite his business benefitting from a £15 million ($21 million) government bailout, the Art Newspaper has reported.

Early in the pandemic, after a planned retrospective of Hirst’s work at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing was canceled, the artist reportedly halted production on new works and moved to reduce the staff at his company, Science U.K., by more than one-third.

The Art Newspaper revealed that the majority of cuts were made after a compulsory two-month consultation period at the company’s Dudbridge, Gloucestershire, location, and included the bulk of the studio’s 3D and painting teams, as well as a number of redundancies in administrative and cleaning staff. 

A representative from Science did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the report.

In company filings seen by Artnet News, Hirst wrote that when the U.K. introduced its first lockdown in March 2020, “our initial focus was around the preservation of cash and managing our cash outflows.” While the company was able to arrange an increased credit agreement with its bank until June of this year, it also made use of the government’s furlough scheme, which supported 80 percent of employee wages.

But this came to an end in October 2020, the same month the government granted the group a £15 million business interruption loan for three years. In his director’s statement, Hirst said that they anticipated the pandemic would affect the group’s revenue “at least until June 2022.” But the Art Newspaper reported that former staff have noticed similar jobs to theirs already being re-advertised on recruitment sites.

This is not the first time the artist has made sweeping cuts to his studio staff. Hirst faced backlash in 2018 after he axed 50 employees from his production company in order to “cut the corporate elements of the business.”

One former employee commented on a pattern of firing and re-hiring at the company on recruitment website indeed.com. They said that during their three-year tenure before, being made redundant in October 2020, there had been multiple rounds of redundancies that were often quickly restaffed. “The business is effectively run by lawyers, and staff are treated as disposable,” they wrote.  

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