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The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Lauren Cavalli.

MoMA Cuts Budget by $45M, Shrinks Operations for Foreseeable Future

Less than a year after the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York unveiled its $450 million expansion—creating 47,000 square feet of gallery space and presenting more of its vast collection than ever before—the institution is preparing for a new reality, one with Covid-19. According to a report by Bloomberg, when MoMA begins welcoming visitors again it will have a slimmed-down staff, a reduced exhibition program, and a budget that was slashed by $45 million.

On a Zoom call with other industry professionals that was reviewed by Bloomberg, director Glenn Lowry outlined the steps MoMA would take to survive the pandemic and ensure visitor safety once people return to its galleries. The museum was expecting to have $180 million to spend in the 2021 fiscal year; instead, it will only have $135 million. Management was forced to reduce MoMA’s exhibition budget by $8 million and chop its publications budget in half.

To cut expenses, the institution plans to operate with 17 percent fewer employees. “We will learn to be a much smaller institution,” Lowry said. In order to get the staff count down to eight hundred people, MoMA eliminated sixty open positions and is offering voluntary retirement packages. Last month, the museum emailed eighty-five of its freelance educators to inform them that there will be no new contract assignments and that “it will be months, if not years before we anticipate returning to budget and operations levels to require educator services.”

Lowry said he couldn’t predict the month in which MoMA will reopen its doors, although he believes it will be sometime between July and September. When visitors do come back, they will find that MoMA has been overhauled again. Prioritizing guests’ safety, the institution is considering capping visitors and implementing timed entries. To ensure a “contactless” experience, it is even discussing the appropriate amount of space to leave between artworks in order to prevent crowding.

Since MoMA has an endowment of $1.2 billion, Lowry was confident that the museum will recover from the current crisis. But he expressed his concern for smaller institutions with little or no endowments: “If they do survive, they will survive in such a meager state that you’ll have to make a very complicated argument that they’re still serving their community. That’s just my anxiety.” Remarking on MoMA PS1 in Long Island City—MoMA’s sister institution, which has furloughed nearly 75 percent of its staff—Lowry acknowledged that “it’s going to be a very long hard road for them,” then added, “we’re going to make sure they survive.”

[Update: May 8, 2020, 10:52 AM] A previous version of this article said that MoMA laid off its freelance educators. In a statement provided to Artforum, the museum said: “Not one employee of the Museum has been furloughed or laid off. With the open-ended closure of the Museum, MoMA faced the painful reality that there would be no new contract assignments to offer to a small group of excellent freelance educators who work to give paid tours and lectures on an as-needed basis at museums across the city, including MoMA. When the Museum is closed, there is no need for their contract services. We are grateful for the past contributions to the Museum and wish them health and safety in these uncertain times.” The article has also been updated to clarify a quote by director Glenn Lowry that was reported in Bloomberg.

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