The layoffs came only two weeks after executive director Chase Rynd announced that he would be retiring from his position after a 17-year tenure. That announcement came only days after the April 30th partial furloughing of the institution’s salaried staff members, in a move that cut their hours to 80 percent of what they would normally be, and furloughed all of their visitor-facing staff.
We’re rapidly heading toward a situation where there is no one left to critisize, interpret, or curate the architecture that surrounds us 99% of the time, since many of us are still in lockdown. All that will be left is what the client says. https://t.co/t3Wb3HywHd
— Zach Mortice (@zachmortice) May 21, 2020
Of course, while coronavirus is partially to blame for the museum’s financial dilemma, as previously noted, the building has actually been shuttered for six months thanks to a much-needed, three-month renovation of the Great Hall’s ceramic flooring. (The National Building Museum has been closed since March 12, one day before its scheduled reopening, to halt the spread of COVID-19.) Eight percent of staff was cut in February as the museum struggled to raise money during the closure, just as the institution was celebrating its 40th birthday.
The layoffs last week constituted two-thirds of the museum’s staff; according to DCist, 23 of those were on the administrative side and 19 were hourly visitor’s staff, and only 18 full-time employees now remain. Although its popular Summer Block Party event series has been pushed to 2021 and all of their remaining events have been canceled through the fall, the museum is still reportedly plugging along on a number of projects. That includes the exhibitions Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group and the border wall-focused The Wall/El Muro: What Is a Border Wall?, the opening of their new visitor’s pavilion, staging their anniversary celebration, and figuring out new social distancing guidelines for their eventual reopening.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic is unduly stressing arts and design museums across the globe as revenue plummets. Still, some cultural institutions are slowly testing the waters as to what measures they’ll need to take to reopen, including implementing temperature checks, encouraging social distancing, and halving occupancy maximums—steps the National Building Museum will likely have to look into as well.