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Cash-strapped New York cultural institutions continue to slash jobs, exhibition funding

A Bite Out of the Big Apple

Cash-strapped New York cultural institutions continue to slash jobs, exhibition funding

The American Museum of Natural History is one several large New York City museums facing stunning financial losses (edwardhblake/Flickr)

With the dire financial impacts stemming from the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of relenting, New York City’s leading museums and cultural institutions continue to announce furloughs, layoffs, and hobbled exhibition budgets.

As reported by the New York Times, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is the latest normally crowd-drawing NYC institution to make public such sweeping adjustments. The 150-year-old nonprofit museum, which broke ground on a Studio Gang-designed $383 million expansion project this past June, announced last week that it would be reducing its staff off around 1,100 employees by 20 percent. This includes permanently parting ways with 68 administrative staff members, not renewing expiring worker contracts, and moving forward with voluntary retirements. Per a statement shared with the times Times, 250 full-time staffers will also be put on furlough for an indefinite period although they will retain their health insurance and, ideally, brought “back to work in stages as it [the museum] reopens and gradually resumes more normal operations.”

Futter, who commands a $1 million annual salary, will take a 25 percent pay cut beginning in the next fiscal year, the Times reported.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE plan is lifted and the museum eventually reopens, it’s expected that there will be reduced operating days/hours, cancellations of public programming and school visits, and delays in the opening of previously scheduled short-term exhibitions.

Along with the ANHM, its neighbor across Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced sweeping slashes in April including executive pay cuts and layoffs impacting 80 staffers. In late March, the museum anticipated a $100 million shortfall due to the pandemic although that number is expected to surge to $150 million. A tentative July reopen date was also announced in March yet that too has changed over the past several weeks; Met officials now expect the museum will reopen later in the year.

Another beloved uptown cultural institution, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is confronting a $10 million shortfall and, as of last month, had furloughed 92 employees.

Despite the dramatic shortfalls, these museums will, in the end, likely weather the proverbial storm. The same, however, isn’t necessarily true for the countless smaller and less lavishly funded arts and cultural organizations that call New York City home.

As a means of drawing attention to the grim financial circumstances surrounding these humble yet vital cultural venues and community-based arts organizations, a sobering report published last month by New York’s Center for an Urban Future details how they, “many are teetering on the brink of insolvency,” are fighting—and struggling—to survive.

“While some major institutions including the Met Museum, MoMA, the Whitney Museum, Carnegie Hall, and the New Museum have projected stunning financial losses—accompanied in some cases by furloughs and layoffs—much less is known about the full consequences of the pandemic on the city’s small and mid-sized arts organizations and on working artists themselves,” the Center wrote in an introduction to its report.

Following conversations with more two-dozen small- to mid-sized arts organizations spread across all five boroughs (Flushing Town Hall, the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the Tenement Museum, and the Brooklyn Conservancy of Music among them) as well as with individual artists, the Center found that most, if not all, had been forced to resort to layoffs and furloughs, and projected revenues losses of 17 to 50 percent or more of their annual operating budgets.