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New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Layoffs, Activist Demands Roil Guggenheim

New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum announced yesterday that it has laid off 24 employees, and that an additional eight have taken voluntary separation agreements. The cuts, which come just weeks ahead of the museum’s planned October 3 opening, account for 11 percent of staff and were made across all departments. The New York Times reports that one-third of those being laid off are BIPOC, and that the ratio of white to nonwhite employees will remain the same.

Since closing amid the Covid-19 pandemic in March, the Guggenheim has lost $1.4 million per month and is projecting a $15 million deficit for this year. The museum furloughed 92 employees in April, recalling roughly half over the summer. Additional financial measures have included a hiring freeze and salary cuts running through 2021, with senior employees taking reductions of up to 25 percent.

“We have leaned into all the options we have available to us, including decreasing operating expenses, hiring freezes, analyzing business needs and departmental priorities, and reducing leadership salaries,” said museum director Richard Armstrong in a letter to staff.

Just ahead of the layoffs, a group of former and current staff members, under the aegis of A Better Guggenheim, issued a statement calling for Armstrong’s resignation, as well as that of chief curator and artistic director Nancy Spector, and COO Elizabeth Duggal in response to allegations of institutional racism, especially those concerning the Guggenheim’s treatment of Chaédra LaBouvier, who curated last year’s Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective. The group demands that the three be removed if they refuse to step down.

This letter follows one delivered by the group to management in June, limning 22 calls to action in response to the Guggenheim’s “white dominant culture and toxic work environment.” The institution in August released a plan to address racism within its walls, including the establishment of paid internships and the hiring of a top-level manager to oversee diversity strategies.