SFMOMA Cuts or Furloughs Hundreds of Staff Members, Calling the Current Moment a ‘Very Painful Time for Our Museum’

The museum said it was expecting a sudden $8 million loss.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is seen in San Francisco, California on April 28, 2016. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is seen in San Francisco, California on April 28, 2016. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is the latest major US institution forced to make drastic staff cuts amid the escalating global health crisis.

With the museum shuttered, SFMOMA laid off 135 on-call staff, noting they will be fully paid through April 8. Meanwhile, 156 workers will be temporarily furloughed at the end of April and another 35 employees furloughed to work on a reduced schedule during closure.

A spokesperson told Artnet News that the museum had 512 employees before the cuts, meaning that more than 200 remained to maintain the museum’s mission (186 employees plus the nearly three dozen newly part-time workers). All in all, the cuts will affect some 60 percent of museum staff.

“SFMOMA is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID19 on our local and global communities,” said director Neal Benezra in a March 27 statement. “We are feeling its impact in the closure of our museum, the cancellation of our art and education programs, and financially.”

Amid the unfolding crisis, all three of the museum’s major sources of revenue—earned income from admissions, store, and restaurant; contributed income from donors; and investment income from its endowment—have simultaneously experienced a sharp contraction. The situation echoes the squeeze experienced by museums across the country.

SFMOMA director Neal Benezra. Image courtesy SFMOMA.

SFMOMA director Neal Benezra. Image courtesy SFMOMA.

“With no visitors, a decrease in contributions, and the anticipated cancellation or postponement of our art and fundraising activities, we are looking at a revenue loss of over $8 million through the end of our fiscal year (June 30) which reflects an estimated 40 percent drop in our operating revenues since the first effects of the coronavirus,” he said. “We anticipate significant additional losses to the museum in the year ahead as half of our annual visitors are travelers from outside the Bay Area.”

Benezra added that the museum had been fortunate enough to be able to keep staff “on full compensation for seven weeks after we closed, but we now have to look to the future and make the painful decision to temporarily decrease the size of our team through layoffs, furloughs, and reduced schedules.”

SFMOMA leadership will also take a pay reduction. “Neal is taking a 50 percent salary reduction for the duration of our furlough and the senior leadership of the museum will also have a reduction,” a representative told Artnet News.

The “Pop, Minimalism, and Figurative” galleries at SFMOMA. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

The “Pop, Minimalism, and Figurative” galleries at SFMOMA. Courtesy of Ben Davis.

Noting that this “has been a very painful time for our museum and the arts community,” Benezra said the goal was to reboot the museum in early July. “[I]f state and local authorities allow, we will bring back our team to start the process at the end of June. We look forward to the day when we can share the healing power of art again.”

Since the furlough begins in May, it would seem that a best-case scenario for those workers involves two months without pay.

The news follows a wave of similar news in the past week: Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) laid off more than half of its staff; the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh announced a temporarily furlough of staff and temporary pay reductions; and the Cleveland Museum said it would immediately furlough all part-time staff and temporarily lay off a portion of its unionized staff, including security guards.


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