Hard times reach arts world: MIA cuts staff

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 5, 2009 - 4:01 PM

Other Twin Cities arts groups are expected to follow the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' tough decisions.

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Channy Casselle of Minneapolis wanders a hall filled with Baroque paintings while visiting the Minneapolis Institute of Art with her daughter Pelagia, 3 months.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Faced with a dramatic drop in revenue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts took steps Wednesday to cut its staff and budget by 6 percent, and reduce exhibitions and programs by as much as 20 percent next year.

"It was probably the worst day of my professional career," said the institute's director, Kaywin Feldman, who took a voluntary 10 percent pay cut. "The MIA is very much a family and we feel the loss of staff here very dearly."

Other major Twin Cities arts organizations are expected to announce cuts in the near future. "We're the first out of the box," said museum spokeswoman Anne-Marie Wagener.

Despite the cash crunch, the museum will continue to offer free admission, Feldman said: "It's a core value, and we're absolutely committed to it."

The institute's situation mirrors that of arts organizations locally and around the country, said Vickie Benson, arts program director at the McKnight Foundation, a leading funder of Minnesota cultural organizations. This year it has cut its arts funding from $10 million to $8.6 million because of a drop in its endowment.

"Most arts organizations are looking at how to trim costs, and the last resort is staff," Benson said.

Walker Art Center has already trimmed 5 percent, or about $1.1 million, from its current budget by reducing programs, delaying an exhibition, limiting travel and operating more efficiently. It expects to cut another 5 percent next year, but has not determined whether staff layoffs will occur. The center’s endowment has declined 23 percent, from $197 million to $152 million, since the previous fiscal year ended June 30, 2008.

"We are in the midst of addressing the question and are doing everything we can to minimize the impact on the staff and public," said director Olga Viso. "Obviously, staff cuts are the last recourse for any director."

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra recently trimmed its staff by 17 percent and cut senior managers' pay by 10 percent in the face of a 5 percent drop in revenue. At the Minnesota Opera, ticket revenue is up, but it expects to freeze salaries and eliminate contributions to pension and 401(k) plans next year.

As for other major organizations, the Guthrie Theater declined to discuss specifics of its budget until later this month, when its fiscal year ends and it will announce its plans for next season. Minnesota Orchestra managers are on tour in Europe.

Biggest cuts in 16 years

The institute's job cuts -- 11 full-timers and eight part-timers out of a staff of 300 -- are the largest since the 1993 recession when seven people were dismissed, Wagener said.

To balance its budget and streamline future operations in a difficult economy, it trimmed $1.7 million from the $26 million in spending it planned for the fiscal year ending June 30. That includes $500,000 squeezed out of the budget in recent months.

The museum blamed its woes primarily on a loss of income from its $145 million endowment, which is down 21 percent from January 2008. The endowment typically provides nearly one-fifth of operating revenues. Contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations -- which account for a quarter of revenues -- are down 25 percent in the past nine months.

The bulk of operating revenue, about $11 million annually, comes from the "park-museum fund," a Hennepin County tax dating to 1911, when the institute was built on parkland. In exchange, the museum provides free admission in most cases.

Besides Feldman, five top managers reduced their own pay. Taking 3-percent cuts were deputy director Pat Grazzini (administration and finance) and assistant directors Elizabeth Armstrong (programs), Matthew Welch (curatorial staff), Kate Johnson (education) and Leann Standish (marketing and communication).

Since Feldman arrived at the museum in January 2008, she has reorganized the staff and hired five curators whose positions were vacant. Those hires are not affected by Wednesday's staff reductions. All non-union salaries have been frozen, however.

To save money next year, the institute canceled a special show, "Surreal Things," from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is making many smaller cuts, including:

• Staging fewer shows from the museum's own collection.

• Giving brunches instead of dinners to thank art lenders.

• Publishing its members magazine quarterly instead of bimonthly.

• Communicating via the Internet rather than print whenever possible.

Troubles elsewhere

Similar problems have rattled art museums across the country. The Detroit Institute of Arts recently pruned $6 million from its $34 million budget by cutting programs and dismissing 20 percent of its staff.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is eliminating 7 percent of its staff. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore cut its staff by 5 percent, canceled a show and imposed salary and hiring freezes and staff furloughs.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has imposed a hiring freeze and is closing 15 out of 23 satellite gift shops around the country. And earlier this year the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, facing near-bankruptcy, reorganized, reduced staff and engineered an emergency infusion of $30 million from an L.A. philanthropist.

Staff writer Graydon Royce contributed to this report. Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

 

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