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SFMOMA to Lay Off or Furlough Over 300 Museum Staff

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The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art announced major reductions in staffing to lessen its expenses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The 135 on-call staff who have been paid for canceled work since the museum’s closure to the public on March 14 will be laid off on April 9. Nearly 200 regular staff will be furloughed or have their schedules reduced beginning May 1. The museum expects to be closed to the public through at least the end of June.

In an exclusive statement provided to KQED, SFMOMA president Neal Benezra explained the museum faces an expected revenue loss of $8 million through June 30, an estimated 40% drop in operating revenues since the coronavirus pandemic hit the Bay Area. A smaller team will keep the museum operating during the furlough period, with Benezra and other members of the museum’s leadership taking pay cuts during this time.

“We have been fortunate to be able to keep our staff on full compensation for seven weeks after we closed, but we now have to look to the future and make the painful decision to temporarily decrease the size of our team,” Benezra’s statement reads.

Unique in this moment of mass layoffs and uncertainty across the art world, SFMOMA has taken particular pains to maintain regular staff’s healthcare benefits through May and June. Natalie Naylor, organizer for the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29, which represents 304 museum employees, says this extension of benefits is a credit to both the union’s strength and the museum’s good will.

SFMOMA will pay 100% of the premiums for those furloughed or with reduced hours, an issue of particular concern when the reason behind the loss of work is a global health crisis.


Laid off on-call staff will not receive these benefits, but they are eligible for rehire when the museum reopens. Furloughed and reduced-schedule staff can also apply for unemployment benefits. While decisions are still being made as to who will be furloughed or have their hours reduced (and to what extent) come May 1, Benezra told museum employees in an online staff meeting that they would be notified no later than April 8 about their status during the furlough period.

“I want you to know that these were very very difficult decisions to make,” Benezra said in the meeting. “But they were necessary to make to ensure the long term viability of the museum.”

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