SFMoMA Eliminates 20 Staff Positions, Citing Lower Attendance and Rising Costs

The museum has also raised admission cost by 20 percent.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Henrik Kam, courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

As it struggles to bounce back to pre-pandemic attendance numbers, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has eliminated 20 staff positions, citing a 35 percent drop in visitorship from 2019. The SFMOMA layoffs follow the museum’s decision to raise the cost of general admission from $25 to $30, an increase of 20 percent.

The museum shared news of the job cuts, which eliminated 13 vacant positions and laid off seven employees, in a “letter to the community” from director Christopher Bedford published on the institution’s website on November 10.

“Our lower attendance figures coupled with rising costs and the forthcoming exhaustion of pandemic-related relief funds have placed pressure on SFMOMA’s finances and necessitated an assessment of our budget, operations, and program,” Bedford wrote.

He noted that budget concerns were also a motivating factor in the museum’s decision in August to join other major institutions in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago in boosting ticket prices to $30.

Christopher Bedford. Photo Christopher Meyers, courtesy Baltimore Museum of Art.

Christopher Bedford. Photo by Christopher Meyers, courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The change went into effect in mid-October, but was not enough to fend off a reduction in the institution’s workforce, as first reported by KQED.

“The decision to lay off staff is tremendously difficult and one we actively worked to avoid,” Bedford added. “Despite the difficulty of this moment, our vision remains steadfast and ambitious: to sustain a welcoming museum that offers a robust range of exhibitions and programs that connect to our contemporary lives, give voice to previously underrepresented artists and thinkers, and expand the narratives of art history.”

SFMOMA isn’t the only museum currently hurting. Last month, the Dallas Museum of Art also cut 20 jobs—or about 8 percent of its workforce. The institution, which is set to embark on a $175 million renovation project, will also beginning closing on Tuesdays as a cost-saving measure. Since 2019, the museum has seen attendance fall over 16 percent, from 800,000 to 665,000 in 2022.

During the height of lockdown in 2020, museums around the U.S. hemorrhaged staff, with at least 17 institutions forced to make layoffs. SFMOMA was among them, with two rounds of cuts, trimming 135 on-call workers from its nearly 500-person staff (and reducing hours for an additional 188 employees) in March, and laying off 55 staffers in June.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that those layoffs “were fully reversed,” but according to KQED, SFMOMA has roughly 350 people on staff today. The museum declined to comment on inquiries regarding its workforce.

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