News Register for our weekly news digest here.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Maciek Lulko/Flickr.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Maciek Lulko/Flickr.

Facing $26M Shortfall, SFMoMA Makes Second Round of Layoffs

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) has cut fifty-five additional jobs in its second wave of layoffs. The institution had previously laid off 135 on-call workers in April. It also planned to furlough or reduce the hours of nearly two hundred regular staffers last month, but $6.2 million in aid from the Paycheck Protection Plan program, which is an initiative of the $2 trillion CARES Act, allowed it to suspend the furloughs until at least June 30.

Museum director Neal Benezra told KQED that SFMoMA was expecting a deficit of $8 million from its temporary closure, which is an estimated 40 percent drop in revenue, for the 2020 fiscal year. According to Artnet News, the institution anticipates that it will lose more than double that sum in 2021. With a projected total shortfall of $26 million, an SFMoMA spokesperson called the layoffs necessary. While the museum is tentatively planning to reopen in mid-August, safety precautions and social distancing measures may also mean lower visitor numbers.

A petition launched in April urged the museum to retain workers during the pandemic. With more than 1,780 signatories, the document asked Benezra to take a salary of zero, members of the board to put their efforts into fundraising or to donate themselves, and management to consider drawing from SFMoMA’s endowment. While Benezra has already cut his salary in half, since his earnings in 2018 were close to a $1 million, for employees this was not enough.

A second petition, which was published two weeks ago and garnered more than 1,300 signatures, informed management that workers were willing to take salary cuts and share the existing workload to preserve everyone’s jobs. “This is a proven strategy, used by forward-thinking businesses to survive downturns without layoffs,” the petition reads. “It is our duty as a civic institution not to contribute to the unemployment crisis.”

Calls for employment retention were reiterated last week, when the museum came under fire for posting Glenn Ligon’s work We’re Black and Strong (I), 1996, on Instagram in response to the ongoing protests over police brutality. Many saw the gesture as hollow and called out the museum for quoting Ligon in lieu of issuing a statement. SFMoMA released an apology for its failure to directly address the death of George Floyd and the issue of police violence, and then posted a second apology days later for removing a critical comment from ex-employee Taylor Brandon from its Instagram feed, prompting cries of censorship.

Benezra said that the decision to remove comments from the social media account was reversed because it was not consistent with the museum’s values. “I take full responsibility for the museum’s actions,” he said in a statement. “I will work to rebuild your trust. I must and will do better.” To make up for its mistake, the museum also shared a post that read “Uncensor Black Narratives” and featured a statement from artist Leila Weefur, writer Elena Gross, and the Heavy Breathing collective, which said that SFMoMA is “complicit with and enables systemized violence against Black individuals.” The artists withdrew from a residency program with the institution over the controversy.