The San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) (photo by Caille Millner for Hyperallergic)

The San Francisco Museum of Art (SFMOMA) will lay off or reduce the work schedule of an additional 55 of its employees. The museum projects an $18 million deficit for the fiscal year 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson for SFMOMA told Hyperallergic that the laid-off staff members, who come from different departments of the museum, will be compensated through July 31 and will also receive a severance package based on tenure, COBRA health insurance, and job search assistance.

In March, SFMOMA laid off an initial 131 on-call (contracted or freelance) employees and announced plans to furlough around 200 regular staffers by May 1, while anticipating a loss of $8 million in the fiscal year of 2020. But a $6.2 million loan from the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allowed the museum to halt the furloughs before they went into effect and keep regular staff employed and receiving benefits through June 30.

The following month, a group of workers at the museum penned an open letter to director Neal Benezra and members of the executive cabinet asking the museum to retain its staff. The petitioners called the museum’s moratorium on furloughs through the end of June a “temporary reprieve” that only “kicks the can down the road,” Hyperallergic reported.

The workers called on Benezra, who took a 50% pay cut, to draw a salary of zero for the duration of the fiscal year. (Benezra earned nearly $1 million in 2018.) They also urged trustees to raise the funds necessary to retain staff and suggested deaccessioning artwork from the museum’s collection.

The layoffs come at the heels of a controversy involving the museum’s response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and claims that it had censored a critical comment by a Black former employee, Taylor Brandon, on its Instagram page. The museum was forced to apologize after disabling comments on a post that featured a work by artist Glenn Ligon. In her deleted comment, Brandon accused museum officials of tokenizing Black artists and “weaponizing their own black employees.”

Benezra followed the museum’s statement with a personal apology to Brandon. “I’m deeply sorry for the pain and anger this decision has caused you,” he wrote.

Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...