The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) has laid off 8% of its staff and plans to reduce its public hours in the weeks ahead to cut operational costs, according to an announcement last Tuesday, October 24. The layoffs impacted 20 workers across almost all departments and resulted in two full-time positions being converted to part-time.
The DMA said in a news release that the “difficult but necessary” changes follow nearly a year of hiring freezes and stem from financial damage incurred from inflation, lack of governmental support, and visitor levels not yet returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, beginning December 1, the DMA will no longer be open to the public on Tuesdays — a decision that was made based on a review of attendance trends and earned revenue.
Current and recently laid-off museum employees who spoke to Hyperallergic said that last week’s news came as a surprise for much of the museum staff.
“I felt shocked and heartbroken. I really love all of the people I worked with. This job was a dream come true for me and the work was fulfilling even with the challenges that are present in any job, because the people I worked with daily are amazing people,” said one former employee, who asked for anonymity due to stipulations of their severance agreement.
When the news broke about the mass layoffs, they said they were given 10 minutes to pack up everything and leave and were escorted by security.
“I understand they do this for safety reasons, but it was still difficult,” the former worker continued. “My colleagues were equally shocked, and even multiple levels of management above me had no idea this was happening until the day of.”
Another current DMA staff member, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job, said that it was “a sad and frustrating week watching such talented and dedicated colleagues leave by surprise.”
“It’s hard to trust anything that leadership says right now,” they continued. “It feels like the people behind the jobs just don’t matter as much as the numbers.”
The announcement comes as the museum prepares for a pricey expansion of its facilities and much-needed repairs. Projected to cost $150 million to $175 million, the DMA’s expansion will add additional gallery rooms and restructure the building’s passages, entryways, and interior spaces in order to better meet the needs of its growing constituencies. Museum officials explained to Hyperallergic that the project will be funded largely through private donations that cannot be applied to operational costs. The DMA recently selected a design proposal from Madrid-based firm Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos after hosting a six-month international competition earlier this year.
The museum is also seeking $36 million in city bonds to support renovations to its existing 40-year-old building, which the museum’s executive director Doroteo Agustín Arteaga told Hyperallergic “is in great need of repair.” These upgrades would include improvements to the museum’s security system. Just last year, the DMA was the victim of a break-in that resulted in significant damage to three ancient Greek artifacts and a clay container made by a contemporary Native American artist.
But while these renovations and new facilities may be needed to continue to serve the Dallas community, the recent layoffs at the cultural institution feel “contradictory,” said another employee who was let go, especially with the knowledge of leadership’s “disproportionately high” salaries.
According to the museum’s 2022, 2021, and 2020 fiscal reports, the executive director’s base salary was $641,014 last year — a nearly $29,000 bump from 2021 and a $43,417 bump from 2020. Arteaga told Hyperallergic that the raises were reflected across the entire staff over the same period of time and that no employees were laid off until now.
However, employees who were subjected to last week’s layoffs feel that the museum failed to prioritize its staff.
“If they truly wanted to serve their community like they always say they do, they’d figure out a way to take care of their staff,” the former DMA employee said. “There is always a choice, and they chose to hurt their staff, and which ultimately harms the museum they claim to serve.”