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Guggenheim, facing $10 million shortfall, turns to furloughs and pay cuts
The Guggenheim Museum in New York, May 12, 2009. The director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation told employees on Friday that the institution would implement furloughs and pay reductions in an effort to contend with “the deep and sudden impact” of the coronavirus pandemic. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times.

by Colin Moynihan

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation told employees Friday that the institution would implement furloughs and pay reductions in an effort to contend with “the deep and sudden impact” of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The near- and long-term financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the Museum’s fiscal well-being is profound,” the director, Richard Armstrong, wrote in an email to workers. “This decision did not come easily.”

Armstrong said in a separate statement that the Guggenheim projected a $10 million revenue shortfall and added that 92 staff members from across the museum would be furloughed. Those staff members, which union officials said include about a dozen people who work in a clandestine storage facility, will be paid through April 19 and receive health benefits covered by the museum through July 31 or the date of rehire, whichever comes first, Armstrong said. All unused vacation time will be paid out by May 1, according to the museum.

Pay will be reduced for another 85 employees, the museum said, including Armstrong, whose salary will be reduced by 25%.

The Guggenheim, which has 315 full- and part-time staff members, is the most recent of the major museums in New York City to resort to contingency plans to survive the upheaval caused by the virus.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has prepared for a loss of $100 million and closure until July, has said it will extend pay for all staff until May 2. The Met is also considering whether to dip into its $3.6 billion endowment fund.

Other institutions have begun whittling their payrolls. Earlier this month, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art were reported to have furloughed, laid off or let go of dozens of employees apiece.

Around the same time, a union representing workers at the New Museum said that the museum had laid off or furloughed dozens of staff members and told unionized part-time art handlers that their scheduled installation work was canceled until further notice.

A union representing about 140 of the Guggenheim’s workers criticized the furloughs.

“The administration’s decision to add to this crisis for their dedicated employees is wrong,” said William Lynn, business manager of Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. “It only strengthens our union’s resolve to negotiate a contract that makes this a fair place to work for these workers.”

The union said that more than 100 regular freelance art handlers, carpenters and others had been paid for work scheduled through March 29 but not for assignments that some of those workers had lined up in April or early May.

In his statement, Armstrong described the impact of the pandemic on the museum, citing loss of admission revenue; the cancellation of education classes, public programs and special events; and a decline in the museum’s endowment. He added that the museum expected that admission revenue would “remain substantially lower” than before when the museum reopens.

The museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan closed on March 13. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao have also closed.

“We hope that we may re-open the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in July,” Armstrong said in his statement. “But it is hard to say at this moment whether that will be advisable.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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