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Natural History Museum slashing staff with layoffs and furloughs
The American Museum of Natural History in New York, July 27, 2019. Facing severe financial losses as a result of the pandemic, the American Museum of Natural History announced on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, that it would cut its full-time staff by about 200 people, amounting to dozens of layoffs. Jeenah Moon/The New York Times.

by Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Facing severe financial losses as a result of the pandemic, the American Museum of Natural History announced Wednesday that it would cut its full-time staff by about 200 people, amounting to dozens of layoffs, and put about 250 other full-time employees on indefinite furlough.

The staff of roughly 1,100 employees will be reduced by about 20%, according to a statement from the museum. That figure includes 68 layoffs, 70 voluntary retirements and other workers whose contracts are expiring. The museum projects a budget deficit of between $80 million and $120 million for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the next fiscal year.

“These actions are gut-wrenching,” Ellen V. Futter, the museum’s president, said in a statement, “but we are compelled to make them to protect the museum and its mission of research, science education, caring for our collections, and providing access for visitors.”

Among those furloughed and laid off will be administrative staff members in almost all areas of the museum, including events, exhibitions, all operational areas, education and scientific departments, said Anne Canty, a spokeswoman for the museum. Most employees who work directly with visitors, school groups and evening programs will be furloughed beginning May 16. Several museum curators were among those who took the retirement option.

The museum’s statement said it “hopes to bring furloughed staff back to work in stages as it reopens and gradually resumes more normal operations.” Those employees will retain their health insurance.

There will also be graduated salary reductions implemented for employees who make $100,000 a year and up. Futter, whose salary is about $1 million, will be taking a 25% salary cut starting in the next fiscal year, the museum said.

The coronavirus has been devastating to cultural institutions in the city that have been forced to shut their doors with no certainty of when they might reopen, and to cancel major fundraising events that help to sustain them.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, facing a potential shortfall for the next fiscal year that might swell to $150 million, announced last month that it was laying off more than 80 people. And the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has said it would furlough more than 90 staff members.

Based on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s phased plan, arts organizations will be among the last approved to reopen, and even when they do, they are not likely to resume their services in full force. There are concerns about how soon tourists will return to the city and whether some patrons will be too anxious about the virus to visit cultural institutions.

The natural history museum’s actions take into account what museum operations are projected to look like when New York City starts to relax restrictions. That is likely to mean reduced business hours, cancellations of all school visits and public programming, as well as delays for temporary exhibitions like the museum’s Butterfly Conservatory, a popular attraction that puts visitors in the same room as hundreds of free-flying butterflies — but perhaps too close to one another during a pandemic.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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