Executives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan are preparing for an economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that could be worse than initially projected. Facing apotential shortfall for the next fiscal year that might swell to $150 million — 50 percent larger than what was forecast in March — the museum announced layoffs for more than 80 employees and executive pay cuts upwards of 20 percent in a letter to staff on Wednesday.
“While we are not immune from the impact of this pandemic, the Met is a strong and enduring institution and will remain one,” Daniel Weiss, president and chief executive of the museum, said in a statement. “Our two primary objectives continue to be doing all that we can to support the health and safety of our community and to protect the long-term financial health of the Museum.”
A museum spokesperson said that the layoffs would amount to a 26-percent reduction in staff across the Met’s visitor services and retail departments, because of an expected decrease in attendance for a sustained period of time. Affected staff members will be paid through the first week of June. The museum had previously planned to reopen in July, but is now looking farther into the future after having to cancel its 150th anniversary summer celebrations.
Faced with the dimming prospect of a fast recovery from the pandemic, many museums are now winnowing their events calendars for the fall and forecasting prolonged closures.
On Tuesday, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston canceled all programming and events through mid-September because of Covid-19. “The current situation has forced us to take a realistic look,” said museum director Peggy Fogelman in a newsletter. “This was a painful decision, but one we know is in the best interests and safety of our visitors.”
At the Queens Museum, Sally Tallant, its president and executive director, is creating multiple timelines for when visitors might be welcomed back to the museum, located in one of America’s hardest-hit neighborhoods. “None of us want to reopen our museums and get people sick, even if we think that cultural spaces should play a role in the city’s recovery,” said Ms. Tallant, who projected a shortfall of $900,000 through July for her organization.
The Jewish Museum in Manhattan, facing $600,000 in losses for every quarter spent under quarantine, has no projected opening date. But it has secured a $2.1 million federal loan, through the Paycheck Protection Program, that covers its $1.1 million monthly costs in payroll, benefits, utilities, and interest payments. To further mitigate expenses, staff members with six-figure salaries will also see their pay reduced by more than 20 percent.
But other arts organizations that had hoped to rely on government support to steer through the coronavirus crisis have not been able to access it.
“None of my colleagues have gotten money from the Paycheck Protection Program,” said Brett Littman, the director of the Noguchi Museum in Queens. The museum had requested $450,000 in loans to cover salaries and utilities.
The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Manhattan, which hosts exhibitions and subsidized artist studios, has also had trouble accessing aid.
“The funds were all taken before we could apply,” said Jane Stephenson, the foundation’s executive director. “We waited four days for the email with the form to arrive.”
And resources could continue to dwindle. Last week, the Noguchi Museum began planning for a drop in support from the New York City government after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s revised executive budget proposal slashed cultural affairs spending by $10.6 million. If the cuts are passed, Mr. Littman expects to see a 30-percent decrease, about $100,000, in funding.
“This crisis has exposed the fragility of how museums do business,” he said. “Very few have the cash reserves needed to continue operating.”