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The Tenement Museum, New York.

New York’s Tenement Museum, Indefinitely Closed, Lays Off 76 Employees

Reeling from the economic situation created by the coronavirus pandemic, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan announced on Wednesday that it has laid off all seventy-one part-time members of its education staff, approximately 92 percent of the department. Five hourly employees from the retail, marketing, and visitor services divisions were also let go. Last spring, workers in these front-facing departments had voted to unionize after years of failed attempts and were in the midst of negotiating their first contract. This March, after the museum began a drive to raise money for its expenses, employees launched their own fundraiser in mid-March to raise $25,000 to help meet the immediate needs of laid-off workers.

Founded at 103 Orchard Street in 1988 by historian Ruth J. Abram and activist Anita Jacobsen, the museum offers interactive tours of historically restored tenement buildings and the surrounding Lower East Side, programs that rely heavily on education professionals. Unlike many other cultural institutions in the city, the museum has announced no plans to reopen; the museum’s re-creations of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrant experience do not lend themselves well to maintaining social distancing or sanitary air circulation.

In April, the institution received a $1.4 million Paycheck Protection Program loan that allowed it to rehire forty full-timers furloughed in mid-March. Although its president, Morris Vogel, took a 99 percent pay reduction when the pandemic began, the museum anticipates a 50 percent budget reduction in 2021. The Tenement Museum is not alone in its financial hardship—according to the Art Newspaper, one in three institutions may close due to economic damage from the pandemic.

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