The Great Hall of the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

DC’s National Building Museum Lays Off Two-Thirds of Staff

The private nonprofit National Building Museum in Washington, DC, is permanently laying off two-thirds of its staff, citing the loss of revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic. More than forty administrative and hourly visitor services positions will be eliminated, effective June 1, leaving eighteen core staffers on partial furlough and two employees working on grant-based projects, reports DCist.

In February, the museum laid off 8 percent of its staff, citing revenue drops related to a renovation project on the building’s ceramic floors that has kept the museum closed since December. Nationwide shutdowns delayed its planned reopening in March, and in April, the museum furloughed all visitor service employees and partially furloughed the rest of the remaining staffers, cutting working hours by 20 to 80 percent. Forty-two positions have now been eliminated: twenty-three administrative staff members and nineteen hourly visitor services staff members. Executive director Chase Rynd, who has helmed the museum since 2003, will also retire at the end of September.

“It cannot be understated how much the museum is suffering financially because it remains closed,” Rynd said. “In addition to lost income from visitors, we generate a steady and significant cash flow from Great Hall event rentals. Both of these revenue streams are now dry, and we don’t know when they will start again.”

A museum spokesperson said: “The challenge was a difficult one: balancing the need to retain sufficient financial resources for reopening against the need to have adequate staff on board in order to reopen. Every scenario required a substantial reduction in force, along with an adjustment to the museum’s scope of work.”

Many of the city’s private museums—which, unlike the Smithsonian Institution museums, rely on admission fees, gift shop sales, and donations in lieu of significant federal funding—are suffering significant blows to revenue. Public institutions have also been heavily affected; in April, the Smithsonian announced it would reduce the pay of its top executives and roll out salary and hiring freezes in an attempt to reduce costs and avoid furloughing employees. It has been estimated that if the Smithsonian—which, like most cultural institutions in the US, has been closed since mid-March—remains closed beyond May 31, its lost revenue could total as much as $50 million.