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The Smithsonian headquarters in Washington, DC.
The Smithsonian headquarters in Washington, DC.

Smithsonian Institution Cuts 237 Jobs as Pandemic Continues to Exact Toll

The Smithsonian Institution last week greeted its October 1 fiscal new year by laying off 237 employees in its first permanent job cuts since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Washington, DC–based institution to close its doors on March 14. The cuts come across the organization’s retail, concessions, and theater businesses, and are meant to offset the more than $49 million in losses—most from shop sales, restaurant revenue, and ticketed events—the Smithsonian has suffered since closing. The losses represent a significant portion of the organization’s $1.5 billion annual budget, only two-thirds of which is funded by Congress.

“We tried to retain as many [employees] as we possibly could,” Ed Howell, Smithsonian Enterprises’ retail head, told the Washington Post. “But the vision is that this is going to go on for an extended period of time. Financially, it was a real struggle.”

The world’s largest museum organization, the Smithsonian, comprises 19 museums, nine research facilities, and the National Zoo. Only eight of the institution’s branches have been able to open since July: the National Zoo; the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Renwick Gallery; the National Portrait Gallery; and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, whose new director, poet Kevin Young, was named last Wednesday, 

To date, the only museum shop that has reopened is that at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is located in Chantilly, Virginia, though shops at several other museums are expected to open soon. Online sales have surged over the course of the pandemic, but the increase has not been enough to offset the losses in the brick-and-mortar shops.

The organization’s 6,300 federal employees are not affected by the cuts, nor are workers in the Smithsonian’s eight cafeterias, which are operated by an outside provider and remain closed.