The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has cut 20 staff positions, citing a major drop in visitor attendance since the beginning of the the COVID-19 pandemic, which it attributed to an overall decline in foot traffic affecting the Bay Area.
SFMOMA Director Christopher Bedford defended the reduction in staff as a “response to our current economic landscape,” according to a community letter published to the museum’s website last Friday. In an internal email to an estimated 350 staff members the same day, the museum announced that it would eliminate seven staff positions and leave an additional 13 unfilled positions vacant.
In the letter, Beford said the museum had failed to return to pre-pandemic attendance levels, citing a 65 percent drop overall from the fiscal year of 2019. The stark decline, Bedford wrote, is “mirroring the reduced foot traffic in San Francisco’s Downtown Core and our city’s broader economic issues.”
The staff cuts affect positions across the museums departments, The San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday.
The last time that museum’s staffers were affected by budget concerns was in August 2020, when the West Coast institution implemented furloughs for full-time staff and part-time employees. That move followed the museum’s projection of a $7 million deficit for the fiscal year 2020, leading the museum to lay off 131 on-call staffers. At the time, the highest paid staff members took 10 percent salary cuts through June 30; its then-director Neal Benezra, whose salary was $950,000, took a 50 percent salary reduction through the end of 2020. Bedford took over as director in February 2022.
In a statement from the museum at the time of Bedford’s appointment, it emphasized his track record in workplace security and addressing pay inequity.
“These decisions reflect the museum’s careful consideration and analysis regarding the proactive steps necessary to secure our financial trajectory,” Bedford wrote in the November 10 letter. The move to make staff cuts, he added, was one the museum’s decision-makers “actively worked to avoid.”
SFMOMA is not the only museum as of late to cut permanent staff positions as a result of lowered attendance and financial stagnation. Last month, the Dallas Museum of Art announced staff layoffs amounting to 8 percent of its workforce, citing concerns about a slow recovery in attendance. The decision came despite the museum’s ongoing $150 million expansion project funded by private sources. The staff reduction included the elimination of 20 positions, including that of Eric Zeidler, the museum’s longtime publications manager, who had been with the institution for nearly 22 years. (Zeidler did not respond to ARTnews‘s request for comment.)