After Months of Closure, the MFA Boston Is the Latest Museum to Resort to Layoffs, Downsizing by 15 Percent

The museum has yet to set a date for reopening.

A closed Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on April 3, 2020. (Photo by Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A closed Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on April 3, 2020. Photo by Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe via Getty Images.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is the latest institution to announce large-scale layoffs in the face of the current public health crisis. Shuttered since March, the museum announced on Friday that it was terminating employment for 57 employees, with an additional 56 staff members taking voluntary retirement.

“Owing to the financial impact of the MFA’s extended closure, we have undergone the difficult but necessary process of reworking our business model to accommodate our new realities—which include a reduction in our workforce,” a museum representative wrote in an email to Artnet News. “We did not arrive at this decision lightly and are extremely grateful for the dedication of these staff members and their contributions to the MFA over the years.”

Eight of the staff members who were laid off were part of the MFA’s workforce during closure; 49 had already been on furlough.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Many other museums across the US have made similar decisions over the past few months, instituting widespread layoffs or furloughs to combat the loss of revenue from ticket sales, events, gift shops, and other retail.

In March and April, the initial round of cutbacks hit institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and the Guggenheim, Whitney, and New Museum in New York. As PPP loans expired and the fiscal year ended, at least 17 more US institutions made layoffs and other staff reductions in June.

The MFA initially limited cost-saving measures to widespread furloughs, as well as a 30 percent pay cut for director, Matthew Teitelbaum, who made $841,921 in 2018. It furloughed some 300 workers, or more than 40 percent of its 750-person workforce, in anticipation of losses of $12 million to $14 million based on a projected closure through June 30.

Museums in Massachusetts got the green light to resume welcoming visitors as the state entered Phase Three of its reopening plan on July 6. Other institutions, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, BostonMass MoCA, the Clark, and the Peabody Essex Museum, have taken advantage of the opportunity to reopen. The MFA has yet to announce a reopening date, or to release revised figures on financial losses.

The institution is hoping to stage outdoor programming in September (the original hope was to do so this month) with an eye toward reopening in early fall. “We expect to welcome back 211 furloughed staff members to MFA’s workforce, starting in August,” the spokeperson told Artnet News. “Staff are expected to return in intervals, based on job function and dependent on additional changes due to the pandemic.”

“This has been an extremely painful process,” Teitelbaum said in a statement. “I have great respect for my colleagues and the extraordinary work we have done together—for our communities in Boston and around the world. They will always be part of our MFA family. Faced with the challenges of a significantly changed financial environment, we made this difficult decision based on the need to create stability and sustainability for the MFA—an institution that means so much to so many.”

A recent survey by the American Alliance of Museums said that one out of every three museums could close forever due to the current crisis.


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