The Metropolitan Museum (photo via Sagie/Flickr)

A mere few weeks ahead of its planned August 29 reopening, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has furloughed and laid off hundreds of staffers. Today, August 5, 79 workers were laid off, 181 were furloughed, and 93 workers accepted voluntary retirement.

The museum closed indefinitely on March 13 as the city faced the looming coronavirus pandemic. In April, it laid off 81 employees and announced that director Max Hollein and president and CEO Daniel H. Weiss would accept a 20% pay cut, while 11 other museum officers would receive a 10% reduction in salary. The museum anticipates having incurred a $150 million loss in budget during the nearly six-month closure.

“We have worked to ensure that these painful staff reductions are distributed across the entire Museum so that no one area or group is taking on an outsized burden,” Weiss said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “Nonetheless, we recognize that the Museum that we will return to — whenever that may be — will be very different from what we left behind only six months ago.”

Following today’s layoffs, the Met’s staff of approximately 2,000 workers has been reduced by 20% since the start of the pandemic.

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo indefinitely stalled the re-opening of museums despite the launch of phase four of its coronavirus plan. Prior to Cuomo’s announcement, the Met announced its intention to reopen August 29, but this will depend on the go-ahead from government officials. Upon reopening, the museum will operate under a reduced schedule.

On Monday, August 3, just days before the public announcement of layoffs, the MMA Collective Action Working Group — a group of current Met employees — sent a letter to museum administrators demanding greater transparency and protection for workers. The groups warned against a second wave of layoffs, which were announced days later, describing them as the result of the museum’s “irresponsible leadership and its lack of real investment in supporting its staff.”

The collective’s most recent missive expands on a list of demands sent to the management, dated June 26. The letter was sent in response to an all-staff email from the museum on June 12th on the topic of its “commitment to diversity.”

In its first letter to the museum, the group demanded the museum publicly share information about layoffs related to COVID-19, as well as “what plans there are in place for further layoffs, as well as which staff members will be impacted.”

“Consistently, Met leadership and department heads lead their teams with practices of favoritism and unchecked racism,” the letter, currently signed by 19 current and former employees, reads. It continues:

BIPOC employees have voluntarily and involuntarily been forced out by unfit managers and complicit leadership. Refusing to listen to feedback from BIPOC staff, department heads continue abusive practices without disciplinary action while purging staff at their own discretion, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the museum’s antiracist training.

The group’s list of demands for museum management includes hazard pay for front-line workers; “a more impactful and expanded pay cut for executives”; “a fund to support staff long-term to minimize the exploitation of temporary positions and to minimize future mass layoffs”; and “mak[ing] transparent the use of the endowment for supporting museum operations, as per the Association of Art Museum Directors resolutions.”

It also asks that the museum use its influence “to advocate for rent and eviction moratoriums, rent control, medicare for all, and debt forgiveness in support of the staff it underpays, has laid off, fired, or furloughed.”

A representative of the collective says the group has not received a response to either of its letters to management. A museum representative declined to comment on the letter to Hyperallergic.

“Not responding to staff concerns is a form of silencing and erasure,” the group said, and asked that the museum “acknowledge that leadership has consistently silenced staff when they have shared letters of action and concern.”

“As a leader in the museum world, The Met’s actions can set a precedent for the future of museums and the next generation of museum leaders,” they wrote. “We understand and empathize that difficult decisions need to be made. However, if The Met truly believes in its message of solidarity and accountability, then it must prioritize supporting its staff.”

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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...