The New Museum in New York (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Last week, two major art museums in New York, the Brooklyn Museum and the New Museum, announced new layoffs. Both museums have been granted Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in the millions.

On June 29, the Brooklyn Museum, which received a PPP loan of $4.5 million according to a spokesperson, laid off 26 full-time and 3 part-time employees. The layoffs reduced the museum’s staff by 7%.

The following day, the New Museum laid off 18 full and part-time staff from the 41 workers it has furloughed since March. The layoffs represent a 27% reduction in the museum’s full-time staff. The museum received a PPP loan between $1-2 million.

Both museums cited mounting losses of revenue due to the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown and dire financial projections as reasons for their decisions.

The boarded-up building of the New Museum in June of 2020 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In a statement to Hyperallergic, the New Museum said that it made its “extraordinarily difficult decision” due to a 30% shortfall in its budget this year and “an even greater projected loss of revenue and shortfall next year.”

The laid-off workers — who come from across departments at the New Museum, including editors, visitor services, and security — have received severance relative to their tenure and extended health benefits through the end of August. The museum added that senior managers continue to receive reduced salaries, a move it announced in April (10%-20% for executives and 30% for the museum’s director, Lisa Phillips).

The decision provoked the outcry of the New Museum Union, which saw 11 of its members lose their jobs.

“At a time when cultural institutions are under increased scrutiny for their hiring and retention practices, the Museum continues to offload the brunt of the financial impact onto its lowest-paid employees,” the Union said in a statement to Hyperallergic. The union says that the museum’s leadership rejected its previous proposal to return to work on August 1 and still refuses to share reopening plans with its representatives.

Dana Kopel, the New Museum Union’s unit chair, was among the laid-off workers. The union’s two stewards also lost their jobs. Kopel, who ended her four-year tenure at the museum as a senior editor, told Hyperallergic in a conversation that she’s “angry and disappointed but not surprised.”

“The museum has now laid off every member of our steward committee and laid off or furloughed every member of our bargaining committee; I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Kopel said, noting that the museum “was hostile to the union from the beginning.”

Kopel added, “These layoffs have targeted some of the lowest-paid workers at the museum while executives who make hundreds of thousands of dollars are still relatively untouched.”

The Brooklyn Museum (Jules Antonio/Flickr)

In Brooklyn, a fundraiser to support former and current Brooklyn Museum staff members raised $57,480. The fundraiser was launched by the Brooklyn Museum Mutual Aid Fund to support workers experiencing financial hardship. The list of donors includes some of the museum’s administration, including its director Anne Pasternak, who donated $1,500.

In an email to Hyperallergic, the Brooklyn Museum said that it suffered a shortfall of about $7.6 million during the fiscal year 2020 and that it expects more losses next year due to “the realities of social distancing, social hesitation and likely future closures which will further impact earned and contributed revenue.”

“Our goal throughout has been to keep as many of our staff employed for as long as possible,” the museum said. “Our Director and President took pay cuts, we froze open positions, and we cut every expense we could other than payroll. Layoffs were our last choice.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...

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